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Movie review: ‘We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks’

Posted 7:14pm on Thursday, May. 30, 2013

Unrated; 127 min.

Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney delivers a gripping account of the wins and losses of hard-charging idealism on the front lines of the information wars in We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.

Unfolding like an espionage thriller but with a methodical journalistic skill at organizing a mountain of facts, the film raises stimulating questions about transparency and freedom of information in a world in which governments and corporations have plenty to hide.

In addition to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Gibney devotes almost equal time to the fascinating figure of U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, allegedly the source of the largest volume of classified military documents leaked by Assange.

Manning in a sense was also collateral damage. A brilliant but lonely tech geek from Oklahoma struggling with gender-identity issues, he enlisted to get a government-funded college education. But his homosexuality made him a target for sergeants determined to “beat the macho into him.”

Manning’s story is framed by a thorough, more or less chronological account of Assange’s rise and fall.

The doc traces his success in exposing corrupt banking practices during Iceland’s economic collapse in 2009-10, which led to heated public protests and provided the budding whistleblower with a new national base and sympathetic allies.

Gibney provides no shortage of support for Assange’s noble mission to keep governments and corporations in check. But the film also digs into the questionable ethics and hypocrisy of his methods, as well as the ego and paranoia that clashed with his idealism.

Given that We Steal Secrets is out less than a year after Gibney’s equally dense account of pedophilia in the Catholic church, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, it’s clear the filmmaker must have an army of researchers working full-time. The volume of information here is considerable, but Gibney and editor Andy Grieve keep it fast-paced and accessible, incorporating smart graphics and animation, and a suspenseful score by Will Bates.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas

— David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

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