(director/writer: Laura Poitras; cinematographer: Kirsten Johnson; editors: Melody London, Laura Poiras; music: Jeremy Flower; cast:  Julian Assange, Sarah Harrison, Jacob Appelbaum; Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Brenda Coughlin; Neon; 2016)

“An uneven cinema verite-style political documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Documentarian Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour”/”The Oath”) helms an uneven cinema verite-style political documentary with wide-access to the notorious Julian Assange. She admires him for his work of exposing deadly government secrets but seemingly can’t stand him personally because of his arrogance. The film spans six years and follows his house arrest in 2011, in Norfolk, England, where he tries to evade arrest on a 2010 rape charges in Sweden, to claiming in 2012 asylum at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, to in 2016 releasing a damaging cache of hacked diplomatic emails from the U.S. State Department’s database–which came at a critical time during the presidential election.

The controversial figure, the founder of WikiLeaks, is portrayed by the filmmaker as a difficult person to like, who with gall tells us “Most people who have principled stances don’t last very long.”

What the film succeeds in is generating a mixed-bag of feelings about Assange for either his supporters or detractors, as Poitras’ cameras follow him as a  fly-on-the-wall observer as he holds court with fellow subversives and dramatically plays the big-deal who holds info he has illegally collected on government agencies. It’s a risky film in that it raises many disturbing ethical questions about government intrigue and even questions if a documentary can be allowed to cover such classified secrets without being questioned about its purpose.

If not a political junkie maybe you should think of the film as a health hazard, but others might want to see it to determine for themselves if its call for a transparent government warrants providing the hacker Assange with a public forum that is so damaging to America. As for me, I  think more highly of Alex Gibney’s similar themed but more dyspeptic 2013 WikiLeaks documentary “We Steal Secrets.”

Poitras herself provides the narration. Her voice-over near the film’s end reports that Assange wrote her “that the film has become a severe threat to my freedom, and I’m forced to treat it accordingly.”


REVIEWED ON 12/29/2017       GRADE: B-