Risk (2016/17) ***

April 12th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Laura Poitras | 87min | Documentary | France 

Citizenfour director Laura Poitras offers this close-up and personal portrait of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange which was five years in the making and has been updated since its Directors’ Fortnight premiere at Cannes 2016. Yet it still feels unfinished as events surrounding its subject matter continue to evolve.

Gaining access to the powerhouse where Julien Assange works with his ‘team’ composed of  girlfriend Sarah Harrison and mouthy WikiLeaks technology geek Jacob Appelbaum, we see Assange rocking a range of diverse disguises from orange hair and coloured contacts to a goatee beard and beany hat, he cuts a slippery rather glib figure capable of wriggling out of situation. Despite his pasty and porcine features, he’s also very keen on himself and holds forth in long monologues of self-righteous, albeit articulate, blether that does nothing to make us warm to his rather sinister brand of ‘charm’.

Not only has Assange has been charged with spying by the United States and has a number of rape charges against him running in Sweden, he offers classified information to the world, and has his (clearly besotted) girlfriend attempt to call up Hillary warning her of with an imminent ’emergency’ situation while sitting comfortably in the privacy of his Norfolk mansion.

Everything falls into place when we see him interacting with his doting mother, who clearly encouraged his self-belief at an early age and groomed his to become the smarmy individual he is today, particularly where women are concerned. His frequent asides to ‘Laura’ feel as if he is on intimate terms with the director and almost a protagonist here rather than a detached observer, but his condescending approach to Sarah Harrison is grist to the mill. Her deferential respect of his perceived power is particularly noticeable when she rehearses a speech in front of him while he chips in with instructions and grooms her for public speaking.

Poitras follows members of Assange’s team as they go about their business in a self-congratulatory way enlightening the poorly informed about information that has been stolen from them. In Egypt there is a coruscating take-down by Appelbaum of various tech companies such as TE Data and Nokia that supported the Mubarak regime, by blocking or censoring the internet during the Arab Spring. The Wikileaks team feel like the information campaign equivalent of Greenpeace.

Poitras divides her documentary into bizarre chapters introduced in roman numerals, that bear no apparent relevance to the actual content in an expose that gradually morphs into a a personal profile of the man himself. The only person who cuts him down to size is Lady Gaga in an ill-advised (from his point of view) interview with the star during his time in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

So despite all the ground-work and updates, there’s nothing really revealing in this mildly hagiographic portrayal. What the documentary does convey to the outsider is that Julian Assange emerges as a decidedly slippery character who has a way with women (including the director), but whether he deserves to still be in captivity is certainly questionable. MT



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