Following on from 2014's documentary about Edward Snowden Citizen Four and with a promised return to freedom of information activists with an account of newly released whistleblower and LGBT icon, Chelsea Manning: Laura Poitras' backstage telling of the rise and fall of not for profit Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange, plays out like a taut espionage thriller with a tensile strength of a thousand.
Starting off as more or less a straight documentary inside the curiously familia busy newsroom atmosphere of Wikileaks' Norfolk countryside office where Assange holds court, soon the Risk becomes an echo chamber where ego is allowed to reverberate in to, at times, comic effect. It's a story that Poitras says returned to the edit room more than once as history happened around it, and whose astounding access demarcates almost 6 years of Wikileaks' existence. Documenting a time where Assange went from exposing corruption, humanitarian abuse and cover ups at the highest level of government internationally to quarry in a court case about the sexual assault of two women. These two jostling thematics never neatly dovetail in Risk, with Poitras' depicting all the messy, tepid truth of Assange's egomania and the growing horror we too as an audience experience.
Assange doesn't react particularly well when this heroic narrative is wrested from his hands, and the paranoia doused high farce later crystallises in moments where Assange now trapped in the seclusion of London‘s Ecuadorian embassy, facing extradition to Sweden for sexual crimes, lists ad infinitum the government agencies set on destroying him to a laconic i-phone brandishing Lady Gaga. Adding to the spiralling unreality Assange experiences, are eye-narrowingly myopic views on the supposed feminist conspiracy that has lead to his implication in the sexual assault case and moments where he sits in a presumably off-grid but idyllic Norfolk copse, eyes alight and hurriedly whispering to then Wikileaks lawyer Renata Avila, mistakes the rustle of a songbird for a secretly ensconced but perhaps very inexperienced intelligence agent.
Again staring directly into the barrel of the often unvarnished and unflattering truth is Jacob Applebaum's tale, it begins with a rousing exposure of Egypt's telecommunications empire complicity in a regime friendly internet shutdown and ends with a Cosby level laundry list of sexual offence accusations.
Risk is a story that epically straddles the line between truth, heroics, hypocrisy and delusion, Assange who so stringently sets out to expose the truth becomes enveloped in an egotistical spy thriller with his own moral turpitude at the epicentre. Poitras at the start just slightly off screen, becomes more of an authorial presence as Risk's moving parts change, herself becoming another in the cast, and perhaps the most enigmatic figure.
Words by Cormac O'Brien
Risk is in cinemas from June 30, 2017