Joshua Reviews Patrick Forbes’ Wikileaks: Secrets And Lies [SXSW 2012]

When it comes to hot button issues over the past few years, very few topics or, in this case, entities, have sparked as much discussion amongst politicians or the general public for that matter, as much as the body known as Wikileaks has.

Spear headed by the enigmatic and cartoonishly defiant Julian Assange, this group, its leader, and the storm of controversy it sparked has become the topic of a brand new documentary, Wikileaks: Secrets And Lies.

Produced by Oxford Film And Television, the documentary has made its North American premiere at SXSW this month, and while it only clocks in at a paltry 81 minutes, this is one hell of an interesting, if oddly singlehanded look into Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Journalism and what the blending of these three things has meant for the safety of nations.

Directed by Patrick Forbes, the film, structurally, is a run of the mill talking head documentary.   The film looks beautiful, and it features intriguing interviews with all the power players, including the man behind the group, Assange himself, giving his first major interview (despite what Colbert Report fans may have you think). The account itself is promoted as being 100% factual, but it’s not the content that seems to be the off putting aspect of this film.   It’s the director’s hand with this information.

Paired with one of the most overbearing and silliest scores in recent documentary memory, Forbes’ sense of impending dread may fit with the overall idea of the events that occurred, but it gives the film a tone and sense of editorializing that just doesn’t fit with what the meaning behind the inception of Wikileaks as an entity was. Be it the previously mentioned score, or the use of photographs to make a joking comment during a segment with a former black ops soldier, the film’s tone is truly an oddity.

As a documentary, the film does its job, but only superficially.   A subject that could be the focus of a multi-hour miniseries, 81 minutes doesn’t allow for anyone to truly dig deep into just what this being is.   Assange himself is as a magnetic and inscrutable a subject as we’ve ever had here in the public sphere, his own life being enough to cover a two hour documentary feature.   The content of the leaked cables is barely discussed here, instead we get entire segments designated to the back room dealings of the newspapers Assange partnered with, a topic that itself, like any chosen sequence of this film, could span hours, only barely touching the surface.

Overall, Wikileaks: Secrets And Lies isn’t a bad film by any means.   Inherently engrossing, imminently watchable and impossible to forget, the film itself is the perfect introduction cinematically to Wikileaks and everyone involved in the controversy following its creation.   The countless films coming down the pipeline will likely deepen the narrative here, but for those with little to no knowledge of the true story behind that crazy snow haired hacker and the world changing website he formed, this is one hell of an enthralling foreword to a novel that will only grow as time has its way with this story.