Jun 042013


Wikileaks is widely known as the organisation which released hundreds of thousands of classified US military and political documents. But how much do we really know about them and their founder, Julian Assange? In this documentary Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Men in the Room) takes a closer look at the organisation and the surprisingly secretive Assange, in We Steal Secrets: The Stories of Wikileaks. Review after the jump.

When trying to categorise Wikileaks and [and by extension its founder Australian Julian Assange], some would say they are terrorists, willing to jeopardise the safety of countless people. Others would call them a beacon of truth, fighting to uncover government lies and secrets, letting the public really see what was going on.

The film details Assange’s early years as a hacker in Melbourne, through to founding of the Wikileaks site in 2006. The aim of the site was simple; people could anonymously deposit whatever information they wanted there, and Wikileaks would publish it. Assange claims the aim was to spread the truth. He believed information should be free and the public should have access. We learn of the organisations involvement with the Icelandic banking crisis and of the US classified document dump that made them a household name. Accused-leaker, Bradley Manning, is also profiled here and the film attempts to explain why and how Manning came to give Wikileaks the largest leak of classfied information ever.

Unable to interview Assange due to his self-imposed house arrest in the London’s Ecuadoran Embassy, or Manning who is currently on trail for leaking the documents, Gibney assembles a collection of journalists, contacts, friends, supporters and government officials to paint a picture of the group and their activities. Particularly enlightening is former CIA director, Michael Hayden who gives a surprisingly candid insight to the business of stealing secrets and information classification. While the interviewees offer interesting accounts and opinions, the film does use them to draw conclusions about Assange’s and Mannings’s personal statuses that it perhaps does not have [or present] enough information to.

We Steal Secrets is an informative documentary for those who know little about Wikileaks. It brings together a lot of broad information and presents it a simple, chronological order. However, the broad nature of the film is also its downfall. In wanting to provide a comprehensive overview of Wikileaks and Assange, Gibney has created a film which is at time, surface deep, and as a result the film hasn’t lingered at all. The film also goes off on some odd tangents (such as that about Manning’s sexuality) which add nothing of importance to the story being told. There just isn’t enough here to justify the more than two hour runtime. I can only speculate that a shorter film with a narrower focus would have packed far more punch.



By Sam McCosh


The Facts

Director: Alex Gibney
Country: USA
Runtime: 130 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: July 4 2013; USA: May 24 2013 (limited)