We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks is a comprehensive look at the founding of WikiLeaks, analyzing Julian Assange and a young, confused soldier by the name of Bradley Manning. The film’s incredibly detailed, running about 130 minutes (one of the longest documentaries in recent memory), leading to an occasionally unfocused look at a website made for/by hackers and its potentially self-destructive founder. Alex Gibney, a formidable director whose talents are apparent, hones in on Assange and his growing hubris, making the tale not just one of what is morally right in this world, but whether Assange had been doing these things for the right reasons. Was he looking for fame and now, feasibly, does he not care about revealing the world’s secrets and wants to hold onto his celebrity status?
What’s so compelling about the film is the clear tonal shift halfway through. As we begin to realize that Gibney was denied interviews with Assange to assess the website and the rape charges he was facing in Sweden, it became obvious that Assange was treating himself as royalty. Demanding $1 million for an interview, asking Gibney to spill secrets on other men he interviewed…it sounds like despicable stuff. Then again, so did the rape charges and how everyone thought those were ludicrous at first, only to find out that they might indeed be true. That leads us to question a lot of the information we’re being provided in the film, not just from the people involved, but from the documents that have been leaked over the last few years.
This is a complex film to a fault. The tales of Bradley Manning and his illegal detainment (being held for 3 years without a trial, for one), and also of his desired sex change and how he was treated poorly at his camp, lead to another tale entirely. The film might be so layered because Gibney hoped to make an all-encompassing film on such a unique, strange man and his website. And the film’s informative, and feels very important for the message it wants to send: that we steal secrets from other countries and use them in the same fashion that WikiLeaks hopes to spread everyone’s secrets; to avoid a web of lies and conspiracies in a digital age. Everything should be accessible nowadays. But as we’re shown, now more than ever secrets are kept.
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)