We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks

We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks

****

Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Alex Gibney's latest film continues a theme for one of America's foremost documentarians, that of questioning the role of the American state and the discrepancy between the secrets it keeps and the truths it presents to its public.

Entering into this world is the inimitable persona of Australian hacker turned "rock-star" Julian Assange, and his WikiLeaks organisation, determined to allow the public truly transparent information about the corporations and governments who act "in our name".

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Chronicling Assange's early anarchist tendencies, from when he was a long-haired teenaged troublemaker in Melbourne - his early run-ins with the law on hacking charges foreshadowing battles to come - to the white-haired middle-aged troublemaker he is today, Gibney attempts to look beyond Assange's public image to the man beneath.

With little access to the man himself, however (Assange demanded $1 million dollars for an interview), Gibney must make do with archival footage and clips from an Australian filmmaker and journalist who followed Assange during WikiLeaks' early successes.

This makes it hard to fully grasp on Assange and his motivations. Often referred to is his early screen persona Mendax, a reference to a Latin term for "noble liar". While Assange's initial intentions may have appeared noble - and to his millions of supporters across the globe, they undoubtedly still are - the film and audience ends up wondering how much nobility is left.

With Assange remaining an elusive figure, the film focuses on profiling and understanding those who have contributed to WikiLeaks and the sharing of information that our governments would rather not be shared. Whether that's British journalists Nick Davies and James Ball, German collaborator Daniel Domscheit-Berg or, most importantly, Bradley Manning, their status as the real heroes of the WikiLeaks story is not in doubt.

Manning's real life sacrifices and internal torment are the beating heart of the film. WikiLeaks - and by extension Assange - would be nothing without the brave whistle-blowers who isolate themselves from friends, family and colleagues to allow the truth to be set free.

Struggling with loneliness and what he terms "gender disorder", being an army intelligence officer deployed in Iraq amongst "masculine rednecks", and having desperate conversations with Assange and hacker Adrian Lamo, Manning reminds us of the human cost of WikiLeaks' quest for transparency. His detention without trial for three years - one of which was spent in isolation - is too real in comparison with Assange's dubious self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

While Assange postures in front of the world's media, the hundreds of people who risk their jobs, and in Manning's case their freedom, to expose corruption and lies, are those whose stories we should be listening to. Gibney's film, for the most part, manages to do justice to their bravery.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2013
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We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks packshot
A profile of the Wikileaks organisation and the various people who contributed to its success.
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