Film review: ‘We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks’

Julian Assange and his organization come under scrutiny in the documentary "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" Credit: Focus World
Julian Assange and his organization come under scrutiny in the documentary “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks”
Credit: Focus World

‘We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks’
Director: Alex Gibney
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

There’s rarely a hot topic filmmaker Alex Gibney won’t turn into an expository documentary. In the past — which is to say the past seven years — the absurdly prolific Gibney has tackled Enron, torture, Jack Abramoff, Eliot Spitzer and Catholic Church sex abuse, each cramming mega-scandals into digestible two-hour-plus packages. Working at such a fast clip can lead to simplicity, but he’s a heavy researcher, if one who’s a bit too married to a template format, and one who needs to relax on cutesy pop song cues that would make even Michael Moore flinch.

Though he goes easier on the latter issue, what’s both decent and vexing about Gibney’s work can be found in “We Steal Secrets,” the official doc on WikiLeaks, the online site that enjoyed a brief but loud life proliferating classified information passed on by anonymous sources. It’s a subject that can’t simply be summarized, requiring its teller to take a stance, both on the ethics of leaking and the company’s actions. Gibney has rounded up all of the organization’s members, save Julian Assange, the editor/spokesperson/silver fox stud who became the company’s public face, only to be taken down by sex scandals almost the instant he became a household name.

It’s not a liability that “Secrets” lacks Assange. It has plenty of other people to take up the slack, and Gibney, for what it’s worth, has never being the grilling type à la Errol Morris. But the lack of Assange creates a hole in the film, one that Gibney nevertheless fills with his own, almost certainly simplistic interpretation. In his reading, Assange is the good guy who became the bad guy, helping to expose necessary (or at least debatably necessary) secrets, only to turn secretive himself when accusations of sexual abuse came to light.

It’s on sturdier ground when inquiring into whether simply exposing the truth at all times isn’t inherently problematic. Assange’s viewpoint, others claim, was black-and-white, assuming that ethics never come to play when it comes to his company’s practices. Gibney’s film isn’t strictly about Assange, who disappears for long stretches, or even about WikiLeaks. It winds up tied, at least emotionally, to Bradley Manning, a sexually confused Iraq War soldier who leaked incriminating (though really just embarrassing) documents to WikiLeaks in what appears to be an act of self-destruction, only to wind up the fall guy. (He plead guilty to charges in February, and faces life in prison.) Gibney’s attempts to play with our emotions are thin and desperate, a flimsy attempt to tie up what is otherwise exhaustive research. But what good’s decent intel when the conclusion is weak?



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

California passes 'yes-means-yes' campus sexual assault bill

Californian lawmakers passed a law on Thursday requiring universities to adopt "affirmative consent" language in their definitions of consensual sex, part of a nationwide drive to curb sexual assault on…

National

Syrian refugees top 3 million, half of all…

By Stephanie NebehayGENEVA (Reuters) - Three million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday, but many remain trapped by the advance…

International

North Korean leader's money manager defects in Russia:…

A senior North Korean banking official who managed money for leader Kim Jong Un has defected in Russia and was seeking asylum in a third country, a South Korean newspaper…

Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 29,…

The Department of Transportation and NYPD said there may be residual delays near all of the street closures on August 29, 31 and 31. Several streets and avenues will be…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

Movies

Criterion's new Jacques Demy box mixes the light…

Jacques Demy, the most effervescent of French New Wave filmmakers, gets a Criterion box all to himself, with classics like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

Entertainment

Comedian Joan Rivers, 81, rushed to New York…

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Acerbic comedian and fashion critic Joan Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on Thursday after she reportedly…

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…