Review: We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks (2013)

we steal secrets the story of wikileaks

I’m fully aware that my government keeps lots of secrets, like where are the secret stores of maple syrup!

Written By: Alex Gibney
Directed By: Alex Gibney

The most interesting aspect of We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks is that it’s not about WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The film presents information about them, that much is a given. But, Alex Gibney’s film is about much more that one website and one man. This documentary is about humanity and the relationships formed between citizens and their governments. We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks is a very dark documentary, almost nihilistic in its portrayal of humanity and its ideas about the future of mankind. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your world view, I find that I agree with what Mr. Gibney’s film has to say about the failure of the majority of human beings on the planet Earth.

Before I go any further, the technical craft on display in We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks deserves some recognition. Mr. Gibney has a topic, a subject matter he knows is interesting. What he does isn’t revolutionary, but in a documentary world dominated by the Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock style of documentary filmmaking the approach of Mr. Gibney sticks out like a sore thumb. He trusts his subject matter, and he trusts his audience to care about his subject matter. He takes the subject matter and does more with it, but he never inserts himself into the thematics of the film. From beginning to end We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks is about its subject and about how humanity can be viewed in regards to said subject.

Back to the theme/s of We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks, because without them all the technical craft would have been for naught. By presenting streams of information Mr. Gibney displays all sides of the issue. At times I felt Julian Assange was a hero, an asshole, a victim, and a miscreant. My view of Mr. Assange changed as the information being presented changed. Essentially the more I learned about him and the more the film allowed me to form my own viewpoint the more said viewpoint changed. The same is true for every issue or person touched upon in We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks, because this is not just the story of Julian Assange.

A key person in the film is Adrian Lamo. The trajectory he takes within the film asks a lot of the viewer. It’s clear there are some issues inside of his brain, and that he believes what he did was right. Yet, it feels wrong, and he feels naive. He begins as a simple man, then comes across as a dupe, and finally a simple man who believes because he has to believe. The film asks us to feel for Mr. Lamo, to realize he is flawed and to accept that he is flawed. Mr. Lamo is ultimately the surrogate for our government, doing both what they feel is best and what is in their best interests. That stirs up feelings of hatred quite easily. The true depth of the film is when it moves beyond hatred and asks us to recognize the flaws in our government and to accept those flaws. We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks isn’t truly about, or against, activism, rather the film is pointedly about accepting that we don’t know everything and that governments are composed of humans who are inherently weak and flawed.

It’s been a few years since I was a simpleton with a negative view of all documentaries. I can’t imagine living in a world where I willfully ignored a movie like We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks simply because it’s a documentary. There’s much more to Mr. Gibney’s film than simple documentation. The human spirit is questioned;  the ultimate intentions and fate of humanity is put to the task. Information is used to open the door, and once that door is opened We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks floods the room with emotion and feelings, that’s the stuff that makes a great documentary more than just a showcase for information.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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