Oddly constructed, the documentary likes to jump around and prey on human emotion to connect to the events that occurred, like a devious narrative with a huge twist at the end. Assange is played up to be some modern genius and leader of men very early on, and whilst this is picked at throughout, the film keeps this facade up as long as it can to adjust the rest of the events to fit an audience’s natural storytelling understanding. Meanwhile there is the horrifying story of Manning, a lost individual who perpetrates the leaking of the secrets that the US armed forces had been acquiring and using during wartime, whilst the US government is the antagonist, the shady figure that may pop up at any point and catch our heroes.
Of course, in life nothing is black and white, but it makes one heck of a story when you see it played out as simply as that. The final half an hour or so, however, does an amazing job of really pulling every thread we’ve been given to examine until each one is unravelled and the most likely truth of the matter is settled upon. Naturally settling and ending isn’t where the documentary ends, as Manning and Assange’s stories are still playing out as you read this page, but for the good of both the narrative of the documentary and the interviewees featured, the story is mostly over, with little likelihood for twists in the near future.
The talking heads are an interesting point, from hacker-turned-snitch (in the most basic of terms) Adrian Lamo to former CIA director Michael Hayden, the former being quite controlled until the end, and the latter just being truly terrifying, if refreshingly frank, in his interview. Not only the amount of material Gibney gets out of the interviewees, but the sheer candidness of the responses, when discussing revelations that any normal human would take a step back from, a lot of those who speak take revelations like that in their stride and embrace them. It’s scary.
There’s a frustration to the film however, which plays with structure to an odd degree, and whilst Gibney has so much material to use and shock the audience with, sometimes it feels like he can’t quite communicate it to the viewer, and in moments like that it causes a great annoyance. In particular, sequences that detail Manning and Lamo’s e-mail conversations go beyond the formers ability to free the information at his fingertips, but go into the man’s psyche, are really shoe-horned in from the get go, and if you weren’t really paying much attention when things kicked off back in 2010 it can seem like a tangent that is less than required to get the gist of the story in the documentary. Ultimately, there’s a fulfilling finale to the more personal side of Manning’s messages, more-so than head figure Assange who although fairly treated, is portrayed more like a myth or a legend, than a man. With that, the film almost undoes what it set out to do in both humanising the legend of Assange and proving that the people who have rushed out to defend the man’s honour without really giving any consideration are just blind fools like any other society.
We Steal Secrets may just be the most important film of the year, the information and the interviews the film contains, and some of the shocking footage and photos, are surprising, volatile and eye-opening, but Gibney perhaps wants to have his cake and eat it too, which means that by the end of the film it’s a bit more of a slog than it should be to sit through. However, the material is utterly fascinating, a modern story of corruption, spying, deceit, lies, heroes and villains falling from the stars, and when it’s well presented the film has the impact that it deserves.
You should make time for the film, for any member of society it’s vital that you make your way to a screen to see it, and get the information required, but at the same time there’s an embellishment of narrative that is not needed, and harms more than it should. We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks is a great documentary, not perfect by any means, but shocking and informative – and sometimes you can’t ask for too much more than that.