Film review: We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange: a paranoid loner – and every screen writer’s dream


Nicholas Barber
Saturday 13 July 2013 20:59

The principal players in Alex Gibney’s dizzying new documentary can’t resist seeing their experiences in cinematic terms.

In We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks they toss in allusions to James Bond and Jean Harlow, to WarGames and Star Trek, and in the circumstances you can hardly blame them. The rise and fall of Julian Assange has the plot of an outlandish film – make that several outlandish films – as well as a larger-than-life cast and a foundation of weighty ethical issues. The interviewees could just as easily have added The Conversation, Catch-22, and State of Play to their references.

As ever, Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Mea Maxima Culpa) has whittled years’ worth of news stories into a gripping, almost unbelievable narrative. You’ve got the darkest secrets of the most powerful nation on Earth being brought to light by an Australian loner of no fixed abode. It has paranoia, desertion, and accusations of bizarre sexual misconduct. And, alongside Assange, it has the lonely figure of Bradley Manning, the conscience-stricken US Army private who blows the whistle on his superiors, and then makes the mistake of telling precisely the wrong person what he’s done. We Steal Secrets is a mighty feat of journalism. But it’s also a war movie, a conspiracy thriller, a farcical political satire and, finally, a tragedy.

All that’s missing is an interview with Assange himself, who wanted £1m to appear. To get a deeper insight into his motivations, however speculative, we’ll have to wait for this autumn’s dramatisation of the same events, The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange. It could be great, but it won’t be better than We Steal Secrets.

Last year, Hollywood released two live-action versions of Snow White, but neither could hold a candle to a fabulous new Spanish interpretation, Blancanieves. Pablo Berger has turned the fairy tale into a black-and-white silent melodrama set in 1920s Seville. In Berger’s wittily gothic film, Snow White is a bullfighter’s daughter, the dwarves are travelling toreadors, and the wicked stepmother is a gold-digging dominatrix (Maribel Verdu, the Mama in Y Tu Mama Tambien). Berger’s film has kept the gothic dread and operatic romance of a classic fairy tale, yet the new setting fits the story amazingly snugly.

I doubt that it would exist without The Artist, and it’s possible that Pepe the cockerel was inspired by Uggie the dog. But Blancanieves is distinctive enough to prove that The Artist needn’t be the beginning and end of the silent movie revival.

And, thanks to Alfonso de Vilallonga’s exhilarating flamenco soundtrack, “silent” has never been more of a misnomer.

NEXT WEEK Nicholas Barber takes a deep one for Breathe In

Critics choice

Cult director Ben Wheatley puts the weird into British costume drama, as strange things happen in A Field in England. Meanwhile Austrian chronicler of human folly Ulrich Seidl turns to religion for Part Two of his new trilogy, In Paradise: Faith.

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