WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS – A REVIEW

WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS is another great documentary from the Sydney Film Festival and nicely reviewed, as always, by ANDREW BRUSENTSEV. It has finished its run at the SFF but have no fear, it has an Australian distributor so will be getting an Australian release sometime soon.

Alex Gibney has been a darling of the documentary circuit and critics for a few years now. Why not – he has made some absolutely brilliant ones. “Taxi To The Dark Side”, “Enron: The Smartest Guy’s In The Room”, “Freakonomics” and “Gonzo: The Life and Times of Hunter S Thompson” it literally is a list of some of the best doco’s of the past decade or so.

WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS is Gibney’s latest, which he wrote and directed. It largely tells the story of Julian Assange, an Australian hacker turned activist who founded Wikileaks in 2006 as a “safe” whistleblowing site. Literally a place where secrets could be revealed. The documentary is told via a voice over narrative and via a series of interviews.

 

WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS - the docco reviewed by Salty Popcorn
WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS – the docco reviewed by Salty Popcorn

 

Depending upon your viewpoint Assange is either a hero or demon. His role in bringing to light corruption in European governments, Icelandic banking cartels is quite evident and he would have stayed, I believe, just a nuisance to the “powers that be” if it wasn’t for his greatest triumph. The receipt of the Afghan and Iraqi War logs and a very embarrassing list of US Diplomatic cables. The video that shot him to fame and made him a household name, the notorious video of a helicopter attack in Baghdad by US Soldiers on suspected terrorists . The same terrorist later turned out to be Reuters journalists not holding an RPG but a camera. This video on the big screen is shocking, simply shocking.

But what is intriguing to most is the key question which Gibney wants to explore, who really is Julian Assange? Gibney digs deep at the beginning of the film, we are given a warp speed tour of Assanges hacktivism and prosecution in Australia. For you see Julian has always been a very talented, gifted individual. You could say “punk idealist”, a man with a sense of justice, distrust of authority and a sense of being a champion of the down trodden. To be fair I think at the beginning of the movie even Gibney feels hypnotised by his magic, and charming Assange is. It is hard not to root for a man who essentially wants through information openess a new society. Personally it is even for me a very seductive idealistic dream. Unfortunately, as in everything, there are no black and whites.

 

WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS - the docco reviewed by Salty Popcorn
WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS – the docco reviewed by Salty Popcorn

 

The portrait that Gibney paints by talking to supporters, opposers and celebrities is a director aware of subject matter. I believe he paints a fairly accurate portrayal. He allows his subjects to talk and to tell their story, not to intrude into their thought processes. What he finds to me is quite startling, I will not give too much away. We find an idealist who’s access to so much unfettered data, power and attention has had some very real negative consequences. It has fed his narcissism and paranoia. One only needs to look at his former colleagues and associates who he has distanced through increasing paranoia and enforcement of draconian laws such as gag orders and binding contracts that would make the CIA or NSA proud.

Once we move onto the subject of the rape allegations we learn that it is so much more convoluted than a simple “the CIA set me up, cause I am a white haired champion of freedom”. It is far less black and white and so much murkier. It is here that for me Julian comes across, at worst, a lying deceitful sociopath and, at best, a man struggling under the weight of some real guilt. A man who wouldn’t hesitate to out and publish reports of military operations funded by the Great Satan (US) but who is willing to keep his own secrets locked away, away from the prying eyes of everyone, even his allies. Assange himself chooses to wrap up the rape charges with Wikileaks and Manning not realising that they can be seperated and seperated they should be. The ultimate irony which Gibney brings to light is that Assange is easier to deport to the US from Britain than from Sweden but no one wants to hear that do they??

 

WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS - the docco reviewed by Salty Popcorn - Bradley Manning
WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS – the docco reviewed by Salty Popcorn – Bradley Manning

 

This is such a delicious irony that Gibney exposes so much better than anyone before him. I will be frank, I am a wholehearted Wikileaks supporter. I support the work of groups such as Anonymous and the Electronic Freedom Foundation. On the other hand I gave up my doe eyed adoration of Assange the man a long time ago. His supporters have long ago bought into the hype and do not realise that the Emperor really has no clothes.

 

WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS - the docco reviewed by Salty Popcorn
WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS – the docco reviewed by Salty Popcorn

 

This brings us to the movie’s real sad story, that of Bradley Manning. A tortured soul if there ever was one. The man that really took risks and was prepared to pay for them. A man who saw wrongs and wanted to yell them to the heavens or in this case to a Wikileaks dropbox. Adrian Llamo is another lost soul, a man who ultimately betrayed Manning after sharing with him friendship. Here are two characters that Gibney explores delicately and with true skill. But it seems that even here Assange and the rest of the World have forgotten about these men. Assange has withdrawn ever further into an Embassy in Ecuador where he has asylum, Manning is in prison facing life there. And those that want to find the answers are greeted with the message from Assange and his supporters “If you aren’t with us, you are against us”. Ironic that.

Gibney has done great work and I believe has leaked on a leaker, someone with real questions to answer. But it seems that his secrets are worth keeping. Ironic that..

 

4 Pops