Film Review: We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks

I have been asked by a friend to write a blog post for his website and he had suggested that I write a film review about The Fifth Estate, a thriller based on the real life story of WikiLeaks, as it ties my love of film to his website’s foundations in technology and so, it seemed only fair to allow WikiLeaks a “right of reply”, before I started writing, before I shaped my views based solely on Hollywood’s dramatisation of events.

We Steal Secrets is a documentary made over a number of years, shadowing Julian Assange, founder and editor of the website WikiLeaks, as the ‘site comes to prominence through the leaking of top secret US military documents regarding the wars in Iraq and Afgahanstan. And while it proclaiming to be the story of WikiLeaks, it actually tells the Julian Assange biography in far more depth.

Julian Assange - We Steal Secrets

That doesn’t mean that it is in any way misleading though, because the one thing to really come over in the film is just how much WikiLeaks and Assange are one and the same. It’s almost as if to Assange, WikiLekas is not a website for revolutionising the information clarity of the world’s governments’ but rather, a brand to promote, sell and ultimately be, an extension of his original Mendax roots. And I found that fascinating.

The first thing that really hit me with the story is just how “planned” it appeared to be. While it’s obviously a retrospective look at the events and actions of the people involved with the WikiLeaks website, the US Military Cables that made it famous and the events that followed resulting in Assange living in an Ecuadorian Embassy, I constantly felt that nothing really appeared reactionary. Everything almost felt scripted and this meant everything felt untrustworthy. It’s hard to explain properly, but the story changes tone so dramatically half way through that you almost wonder if you’re being told the truth, or an edited story of fiction.

WikiLeaks - We Steal Secrets

Throughout, you seem to have such unbridled access to Assange the term fly on the wall never seemed so adapt and the documentary appears to have been there at even pivotal moment of his digital life. It’s hard to think you could get closer to Assange than when you see him asleep in a hotel room, or that you’re being told anything but the truth when you see the unashamed passion in his eyes at believing he’s become untouchable as the press plaster his photograph over their first editions. But then you’re treated to the other side, to interviews with top US government officials, to press journalists, to hackers and activists providing alternating takes on events, on their views and reasoning’s and ultimately, their actions. But the style of film making used on each part does collate. It doesn’t feel connected.

While I am sure this documentary is trying to provide a level playing field. Trying to reduce the facts to a simple time line and provide expert witness to the motives and events that shaped the key factors that lead you through the story, I just couldn’t get the change of tone out of my head. It’s almost as if this documentary started life as one thing, and then through the actions of it’s source material had to change into something else, and that completely destroyed the trust I had in it.

The story is gripping, and the inner mental destruction you see Julian Assange transform through a stark reminder of the mental warfare that attempting to balance power and responsibility causes. Along with the cleverness of the US Goverment to realise that to silence WikiLeaks you didn’t need to take on the website but rather, just Assange, because his own belief in total power dominance over the site meant that take out Assange and he would take out WikiLeaks for you. As it has, basically, proven to be. The story really will keep you guessing and keep your mind constantly forming, changing and re-evaluating the opinions and facts it’s presented.

Bradley Manning - We Steal Secrets

I must state though, that the biggest emotion to come over from the documentary was just how much, in real life, WikiLeaks serves to show that the stereotypical image of a “cyber criminal” is sadly accurate. Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo, all people highlighted in the documentary, all “hackers” in one way or another and all a group of people isolated from the world outdoors, living in a lesser understood but arguably now, more power digital world. And more noticeably, all potentially, suffering from mental health issues that warp or shape their perceived views on right and wrong and how to interact with society.

I really don’t know quite how I feel about We Steal Secrets. I enjoyed it, I found parts fascinating and I found how events unfolded and the tactics used by all sides really interesting, but because the tone of the documentary seems so split, I am not sure I believe in it or not. It’s the old problem of propaganda only works when you know which side it’s supporting. And I came away without any idea whether this was meant to be for or against.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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