Written and directed by Alex Gibney, the 2013 documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks is, as the title implies, a look at how and why Julian Assange created his controversial website specializing in the exposure of government and corporate secrets. The site has obviously been the subject of no shortage of controversy in part because it was responsible for its involvement in the biggest security breach in the history of the United States.
The film starts off quite strong. It introduces us to Assange and gives us some welcome background information on who he is, where he came from and why he came to create the site. It also ties in the whole ‘professional hacker' angle rather well, noting that the government in many ways employs those who would have previously been the ones to do them damage online to prevent others of their kind from achieving similar goals and we learn how in a post 9/11 world data that would have once been confidential is now more readily available to more people than ever before.
From here the movie details Wikileaks' association with Bradley Manning, the member of the United States Army who was only just recently convicted of espionage for leaking an untold number of classified government documents to Assange's organization. These were then put online for anyone to see and at this point the U.S. Government couldn't really do anything about it. Included in the leaked documents were thousands of government cables, some of which were rather damning. The government wasn't happy about this, but many saw what Manning and Assange did as the highest form of patriotism, that being dissent. The documentary loses focus here, going into a whole lot more detail on Manning and the movie becomes perilously close to telling Manning's story over Assange's in its middle half.
From here the movie discusses the pros and cons of government transparency as it applies to confidential information, the need for such information to remain confidential or not, and the role that Wikileaks plays in how this information makes its way to the public. Mannings inevitable fall after he's fingered for the leak also gets some well-deserved focus, and we are left wondering if the supposed encryption that Wikileaks employs really does keep their sources as anonymous as they claim it does. We're also rightly left questioning the Pentagon's motives for bringing Manning up on the charges that they did. Not surprisingly, given the nature of the documentary's subject, for as many facts and statistics as the picture is able to offer up, this is often times a movie that asks as many questions as it answers.
Gibney's angle here seems to support the idea of Wikileaks and what Assange has purported he and his associates do through the platform, as it makes it fairly clear that it's not a bad thing to question governments and corporations. It does, however, poke holes in Assange's morality, not skirting over the sexual assault issues that were brought up against him nor evading the fact that once Assange was revealed to be the man behind the site his instant celebrity status seems to have changed him into some sort of counter culture rock star. The movie feels a little long winded in its middle part and, again, delves further into Manning's story at the expense of exploring in more detail that belonging to its subject, but as they do tend to intertwine this is forgivable. Those who see Assange as a patriot may take issue with the fact that he's not deemed a saint by the filmmakers, and those who see him as a muckraking bottom feeder will take equal issue with the fact that he's not completely demonized here. It's an incredibly well researched documentary that has enough style behind it on a visual level to help keep things interesting to look at while at the same time allowing the narrative to bombard us with facts and figures that are, on their own, rather telling. It's an interesting movie that anyone with an interest in the subject matter ought to find the time to see. Though it isn't without a few problems of its own, We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks makes for a very interesting watch.
We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks is framed at 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen on this DVD from Universal Studios. The documentary makes use of a lot of archival footage, some of which doesn't look nearly as good as the newer clips that appear in the film, but hey, that's the way that documentaries tend to be made. All in all the film looks just fine, there are no compression artifact issues just some source related variations in quality. The newly shot interview clips are crisp, clean and clear just as you'd expect while some of the clips used are not. This isn't something you watch for reference video quality, the presentation here suits the material just fine and is perfectly watchable.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is fine, using the surround channels primarily to spread out the score. This is a fairly dialogue heavy movie, not the type of thing that lends itself to a phenomenal surround experience but it handles things easily enough. Dialogue is easy enough to understand and aside from some archival clips there are no issues with hiss or distortion to complain about. Optional subtitles are provided in French and Spanish and optional closed captioning is provided in English.
Aside from a few previews for unrelated Universals Studios properties, we get seven deleted scenes that offer up some more information about Thomas Drake, Alex Gibney's take on Philip Crowley, the Arab Spring and a few other related bits and pieces. Additionally there's fifteen minute audio recording called Bradley Manning Testifies which is, as the title implies, a selection of excerpts recorded during his testimony to military prosecutors. The recording quality isn't great but text screens help to make up for that. It's an interesting addition to the disc.
We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks is an interesting documentary. Not without some pacing issues and focus problems here and there, it is nevertheless a fascinating glimpse into the story behind one of the important and revolutionary media outlets to have arisen in the digital age. Universal's DVD isn't stacked with extras but the deleted scenes are interesting enough has it the testimony recording. The quality of the presentation is perfectly fine and the disc comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.