Wikileaks founder Julian Assange remains a calculated mystery, even after filmmaker Laura Poitras' eye-opening documentary Risk, a grim look at the man himself covering Wikileaks' rise to prominence before Assange's descent to Ecuadorian political asylum-seeker.
Poitras is best known for Citizenfour, a similar documentary about NSA leaker Edward Snowden from 2014. That film was somewhat sympathetic; in Risk, however, the controversy surrounding Assange almost takes a backseat to his presence as public figure, changing the story Poitras set out to tell. It morphs from First Amendment freedoms and Assange's role as a blurred-lines sometimes-hero into a rather bleak exposé on id and ego, the terrifying power and reach of the internet and a singular man seemingly lost in unattainable ideals and self-imposed loneliness who now hides behind the concepts of free will, free information and transparent government.
Following 2010 allegations of sexual assault that found Sweden attempting to extradite Assange from the UK, it becomes unclear whether the US is just trying to make way, in turn, for their own extradition of Assange from Sweden. Regardless, his glib demeanor in the face of the charges doesn't do him any favors. Could this be where he begins to lose Poitras?
Assange seems subsequently paranoid, a once-mighty icon to the hacking, radical and even liberal communities toppled from his throne of reproach. Of course, Trump singing his praises during the 2016 election didn't much help him with image. And anyway, Assange seems alternately brave in a painfully idealistic, misguided sense, and all too happy to let the leakers who use his platform (such as the now-commuted former army private Chelsea Manning, who served seven years in prison for leaking classified intel) face the consequences while he dyes his hair and hides out, all the while espousing the sanctity of freedom.
Wherever one might land in regards to Wikileaks and its founder, Poitras provides a heretofore-unseen window into their inner-workings. Just don't be surprised if Assange can't live up to his own hype. He is, after all, human.
+ Eye-opening and riveting
- So depressing
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Directed by Poitras
Center for Contemporary Arts,
NR, 94 min