Monday, June 03, 2013

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

As much as I suggest i this review that the intersection between the sets of people who are interested in this film's subject and those who have not been following the story is fairly small, I must also admit to fitting into it. Like many Americans who fit into what we call liberal (but which the rest of the world would call "slightly less conservative"), I talk a good game about wanting more transparency and hating the way the last couple of administrations have throttled the Constitution, I don't exactly keep on top of the news where it's concerned.

Thus, I didn't realize that PFC Manning's trial (after three years of detention) was finally getting under way today. It really should be a bigger deal than it is, because while in most cases the question of "did this guy do that thing?" is fairly open-and-shut, there's a fair amount of room for debate on whether that thing should be considered a crime. I'm inclined to think it's a necessary one, doing something potentially harmful to fight against things that are unquestionably harmful, but the rule of law doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for those sort of considerations.

In a movie, the compromise would be for Manning to be found guilty but have a judge who recognized that it was in the service of the greater good, giving him a trivial sentence. I'm not sure exactly what the Hollywood ending for Assange would be - I suspect it would be for the people accusing him of sex crimes to be the character assassins people have painted him as. Or maybe he'd be ironically brought down by the system he helped to create, which would be found all the stronger for not being at one person's command.

Neither is likely. A shame, that. This is probably why I tend to stick to fiction and science/nature documentaries.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 June 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run, DCP)

Toward the end of We Steal Secrets, one of the interview subjects calls back to an early online handle of Julian Assange's, "Mendax", an abbreviation of "noble liar". That is, however, not the first (possible) online alias of his that is mentioned, and some might suggest that "wank" is more appropriate. That both are raised as possibilities certainly suggests that director Alex Gibney is taking a fairly even-handed look at the topic.

"WANK" was the name of a group that managed to get a worm into NASA's systems out of fear of the shuttle carrying a nuclear-powered payload in the late 1980s; it was believed to have originated from Assange's Melbourne circle of hackers. And while Assange's activism would eventually morph from direct action to creating WikiLeaks, a spot where whistleblowers can anonymously upload documents in the interest of transparency. After getting a certain amount of international renown by exposing misdoings in an Icelandic bank, he hits paydirt when somebody - by all evidence, troubled US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning - uploads a treasure trove of military and diplomatic information.

It's quite possible that the time might not yet be right for a WikiLeaks documentary. The very nature of the story means that it played out in public quite recently, so many people with interest in the subject have likely been consuming the primary sources as events unfolded. There is also an argument to be made that the story is unfinished; there are on-screen updates dated March 2013 just before the closing credits roll and it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect that text to be updated again before the home video release. That doesn't necessarily make the film's narrative incomplete - whatever happens to Assange and Manning, the implosion of WikiLeaks is unlikely to reversed.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

1 comment:

Aaron Emmett said...

Want to add this movie in my list look like a interesting one.. thanks for your review on this