Filmmakers steal secrets from Julian Assange

This article first appeared on Farrago.

Few individuals divide the masses quite like Julian Assange. We Steal Secrets, a comprehensive biography exploring his life and the whistle-blowing organisation he founded, does not make assessing Assange’s legacy and character any easier.

Image: The Palestine Chronicle

Image: The Palestine Chronicle

At times he is portrayed as a hero, leading the world on an information revolution. At other times he is characterised as a manipulative hypocrite, compromising his passion for transparency by protecting self-interest. Like any documentary film should, We Steal Secrets values objectivity above activism, leaving the ultimate verdict up to the audience.

We Steal Secrets is first-class journalism, delving into the detail of WikiLeaks and gaining exclusive access to all the important characters, Assange included. It permits Assange’s opponents to vent their spleen, and his supporters to give insights into a man so eager to withhold his own secrets.

Most engrossing is the film’s narrative of Bradley Manning, the American soldier accused of providing WikiLeaks with controversial footage from Iraq. At times, the film pushes the boundaries between need-to-know information and juicy gossip–with multiple scenes dedicated to Manning’s overt desire to be a woman–but it’s nevertheless captivating viewing.

The film loses some of its impact on the cutting room floor. At 130 minutes,We Steal Secrets sufficiently tells Assange’s compelling story, but drags on for far too long. The filmmakers show little restraint in being selective, wanting to pack the film with every half-decent quote offered by their talent. While their editing choices will no doubt leave audiences well educated about all-things Assange, it may just as equally fatigue them.

Similarly the film tries to weave together far too many narratives. Much like WikiLeaks itself, the film is a web of complexity, tracking WikiLeaks’ history in a predominantly non-linear manner. While a series of timestamps imply chronology, director Alex Gibney flips back and forth through Assange’s timeline, seemingly scared to leave anything out.

So long as you’ve got the patience, and of course the interest, We Steal Secretsis a documentary worth seeing. While it’s not the most orderly piece of storytelling, it nevertheless deserves praise for its capacity to take its audience inside Assange’s captivating world.