Other documentarians may be more famous than Oscar-winner Alex Gibney, but there's no one working right now who afflicts the comfortable with more energy and pointedness than Gibney.
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks is Gibney's second documentary in less than a year, after the upsetting and revealing Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, about the sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. In taking on the story of Julian Assange and his sometimes misguided career, Gibney keeps the focus where it should be -- on the concerted efforts by the U.S. government to shroud its most unfortunate practices in secrecy.
Those secrets -- about the way war was conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan by American forces -- were at the center of Assange's biggest triumph: the release of a bushel of war records and diplomatic cables that had been provided to him by Spec. Bradley Manning. The U.S. government reacted as though it had been stung by a bee, swatting at the perpetrators with rage beyond proportion.
As a result, Manning is sitting in jail, awaiting a military hearing that could result in the death penalty. (In a massive overreach, the U.S. Army wants to try him for giving aid to the enemy -- in this case, the press.)
Assange, meanwhile, is under a kind of self-imposed house arrest, living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has taken asylum. Because, as Gibney shows, Assange put himself in legal jeopardy with an act of arrogance and ego, having to do with his refusal to wear a condom.
It's maybe the most shocking fact in the film -- that the man who would shame governments by revealing their secrets was brought low by his own unwillingness to reveal himself (through an HIV test).
Gibney is telling several stories here.
This review continues on my website.