For six years critically acclaimed filmmaker Laura Poitras has followed Julian Assange, being granted unprecedented access to document the WikiLeaks founder’s life amidst the controversy. Poitras’s fly-on-the-wall style not only takes us through the day-to-day life of Assange and his associates as they navigate through the challenges of upholding WikiLeaks’ mission, but it also forms a character study of the man himself.
The major difficulty with directing a documentary concerning recent events is that circumstances can change before the final product is released. When Risk premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2016, some critics claimed Poitras painted Assange in a messianic light. However, several events have caused Poitras to recut the film with added narration from her and extra material concerning the 2016 US Presidential election and recent threats against WikiLeaks from the CIA. Moreover, last year Assange and Poitras had a falling out over his concern of the depiction of his sexual offences investigation in Sweden. This has caused a shift in tone from the Cannes version. It would be a stretch to say the revised portrayal demonises Assange, but the filmmaker shies away from idolisation and highlights both his positive and negative elements. He’s depicted as principled and pragmatic, but appears to be occasionally egotistical and lacking in emotional intelligence.
The key strength of Risk is the unique level of access and intimacy Piotras is afforded. We are privy to Assange’s conversations with government officials; attempts to disguise himself when moving locations; and coaching from lawyers on how to approach his sexual offences allegations. It makes for highly compelling viewing and there’s a tangible sense of claustrophobia and isolation when the director delves into the pressures stemming from his house arrest and eventual confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
But the film isn’t perfect. By attempting to focus on Assange, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and recent threats from the CIA, Risk is too broad, resulting in many portions of the documentary lacking in-depth analysis. Oddly enough, the work doesn’t delve greatly into the content of the data leaks nor the efficacy of WikiLeaks.
As a character study, Risk is a fascinating and engaging documentary for those looking for interesting revelations on Assange’s personality and philosophy. Despite spreading itself too thin, it’s still topical and worthwhile viewing, although it is best suited to viewers already versed in the WikiLeaks story and current events.
Risk is released nationwide on 30th June 2017.
Watch the trailer for Risk here: