Alex Gibney’s film is a documentary of two halves.
The first half beats the drum for WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, the man behind the biggest security breach in US intelligence history. What surprises here is Gibney’s apparently unquestioning attitude to his subject, given the lances he has broken against the smart guys of Enron and the US military in Taxi to the Dark Side.
Inside the first five minutes Assange is described as “brilliant”, “clever” and “brave”. But the tone changes once two sex-abuse charges in Sweden come to light and Assange’s own mask begins to slip, revealing a thin-skinned, paranoid and pretty grasping character.
But this is no ad hominem assault; the real story of the film belongs to Bradley Manning, a conscience-stricken Army private who in 2010 leaked video footage of a US gunship in Baghdad killing two children, two Reuters journalists and several others who happened to be standing by (the shooter’s radioed commentary to base is sickening). Manning, for all his naivety, really did prove himself a crusader for freedom, and paid the price – three years in the brig without trial, and tortured to boot.
It makes Assange’s furtiveness and his hideout in the Ecuadorean embassy look even more weaselly. Gibney has stitched together the ordinary material of interviews, emails and news footage into a quite incendiary narrative. His film has made a good case for the WikiLeaks ethic, if not for its tainted figurehead.