Rated R | Time: 2:10
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks is a lean 130 minutes. You can imagine a five hour version somewhere in filmmaker Alex Gibneys hard drive, filled with even more strange characters, mysterious motivations and institutional hypocrisy.
Rapidly paced and wide in scope, this documentary takes a subject that was nearly impossible to follow in real time and gives it coherence. With the two key subjects portrayed in a legal and personal limbo, it seems a little soon to be looking at a WikiLeaks story in retrospect. But its still a compelling and entertaining ride.
We Steal Secrets begins with a brief account of a 1989 hack on NASA computers, suggesting Julian Assange was one of the digital pirates. We move to the 2006 founding of WikiLeaks, a look at high-profile stories that came from the company and the exposure and arrest of accused leaker Bradley Manning.
Gibney begins in just-the-facts rapid-fire. But by the final hour, its easier to separate the central figures into categories of sympathy and scorn. Manning, the one behind bars, seems to be the most consistent in his actions. The film shapes Assange as a figure who has shifted his values to meet his own needs suggesting a double standard when it comes to the sexual assault accusations levied against the WikiLeaks founder.
Gibney is in multitasking mode We Steal Secrets is closest in tone to the directors Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. And its impressive to watch, as the director blends news accounts, interviews and simple animations to build up the tension.
WikiLeaks is a difficult subject, and not just because of the density of the narrative. As time passes, the Manning and Assange plots go in different directions and both seem far from finished when the documentary ends.
But the film provides more than enough drama and needed context to the story. Audience members get an idea how small the WikiLeaks empire was, even at its peak. (Its a corner gas station with some extremely bright attendants, one expert says.) And the complicated risks for both the leakers and the subjects of the leaks are explored in a meaningful way.
(At the Tivoli.)
| Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle