Film

Reviews by
Tricia Youlden

We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks ★★★★ M

The viewer’s perception of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is likely to be changed by We Steal Secrets - Photo by Jo Straube

In his director’s statement, Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney says that he was initially attracted to the story of Julian Assange and his “David and Goliath story: one man, armed only with a computer, against the world”. However, what he uncovers in the making of his documentary is much more than simply one man’s story. We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks reveals a complex web of truths and lies, involving many other players.

In his clear, chronological history of Wikileaks’ conception, Gibney begins with Assange, the Melbourne teenage hacker with the tag “Mendax”. In 1995, Assange pleads guilty to 25 charges of hacking. Among other things, he is believed to be one of those responsible for having hacked into the computers of the Pentagon USAF 7th Command Group in 1989. From 2006, Assange is editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, an electronic “drop box” where people can drop secrets anonymously, without fear of having their identity exposed. “We try hard to not know who our sources are.” Thus, many unjust and illegal corporate and government activities are exposed and investigated, without the whistleblowers being identified.

Then, in 2010, an anonymous soldier begins to feed classified documents to WikiLeaks. These include the “Collateral Murder” video of a 2007 Baghdad air strike, video of the 2009 Granai air strike in Afghanistan, 250,000 US diplomatic cables and 500,000 army reports, later known as the Iraq War logs and the Afghan War logs. Although the New York Times is complicit in the 2010 publication of the original classified information, the newspaper withdraws its support after Private Bradley Manning is identified and charged with a variety of offences including treason.

Meanwhile, Assange is facing extradition to Sweden to face charges of sexual offences against two women. Convinced that this is a ploy to extradite him to the US, in 2012 he seeks and is granted political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he still resides.

By this stage in the film, Gibney’s interviews with Assange’s former WikiLeaks colleagues, including his two Swedish accusers, have definitely altered one’s perception of the man and his situation. Just as he created WikiLeaks, has he also destroyed it? While Assange appears to be suffering from hubris, it is Bradley Manning whose situation evokes most sympathy.

A slight, effeminate man, whose sergeant recommends three times that he not be deployed, Manning is nevertheless posted to Iraq in 2009. Already clearly distressed by his gender-identity crisis, this insomniac “computer nerd” now finds himself “actively involved in something I was against”. Because of his highly emotional state, Manning’s superiors take away his gun, but not his intelligence clearance, allowing him unrestricted access to sensitive classified information.

Unfortunately, Manning has developed an online relationship with Adrian Lamo, a fellow hacker. When he confides to Lamo what he has done, Lamo goes to the FBI. Manning’s subsequent imprisonment and alleged torture is clearly a politically motivated act of vengeance. Manning is “the real risktaker, the real whistleblower”, yet this “broken soul” appears to have become the recipient of the abusive behaviour that he sought to expose.

By the end of the film, one has an abundance of sympathy for Manning. Especially when Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, candidly admits that “we steal secrets”. It is estimated that the US government monitors 60,000 telephone calls and emails per second. Yet Manning faces the death penalty for what he has done. Gibney poses the question, “Was it not once considered patriotic to stand up to your government when you know it’s wrong?”

Manning’s trial commenced on June 3. And now we have Edward Snowden blowing another security whistle. The case continues.

We Steal Secrets opens for general release in Sydney on July 4. How’s that for timing!


 

A Gun in Each Hand ★★★★ M

Eduard Fernandez (left) and Leonardo Sbaraglia work through their mid-life crises in A Gun in Each Hand

Opening the Sydney Spanish Film Festival on June 19 was this engaging “serious comedy” from accomplished director Cesc Gay. A Gun in Each Hand is a series of six apparently unrelated vignettes, from which some characters are brought together in a final party scene. Whether or not the individual men have been successful in their careers or love life, all of them are going through some sort of mid-life crisis. Director Cesc Gay uses their various dilemmas to illustrate how the role of men in Spanish society has changed. His characters all find themselves analysing the professional and personal choices they have made and how these have impacted upon their lives and relationships.

In some scenes, two men gradually open up to each other, while in other scenes a woman acts as confidante or catalyst for the men to start analysing their actions. Most of the men find the whole process of getting in touch with their emotions bewildering — “No one told us life would be like this.” Some must first endeavour to understand what makes the women in their lives tick — “They give you no warning, not even a manual.” Yet these same women seem eminently able to not only understand, but survive what their men do, from flirtation through marriage to divorce.

Starring Ricardo Darin, Luis Tosar, Javier Camara, Eduardo Noriega, Leonor Watling, Candela Pena and Leonardo Sbaraglia, A Gun in Each Hand is less likely to provoke the audience to laugh out loud than it is to evoke wry smiles of empathy, if not recognition.

A Gun in Each Hand also features Barcelona, the gloriously colourful city where it was shot.

The 2013 Spanish Film Festival is currently on in Sydney until July 3. Visit www.spanishfilmfestival.com for more information.


The Great Gatsby ★★★ M

Like Baz Luhrmann’s previous films, The Great Gatsby is already drawing a varied response. While opinions do not seem to be as polarised as with Moulin Rouge, I must say that this Gatsby left me rather bemused.

Catherine Martin certainly deserves major acclaim for both her production design and costume design. She also co-produced the film. Her “other half”, Luhrmann, was director and co-producer, as well as having co-written the screenplay with Craig Pearce.

The title sequence is stunning. The opening party scene is spectacular. The sets and costumes are gorgeous. However, this Gatsby has more style than substance. Carey Mulligan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton give fine performances in the lead roles, while Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki and Jason Clarke do as much as they can with their supporting roles.Who knows what F. Scott Fitzgerald would make of their pared-down characters and dialogue? Just as the computer-generated backgrounds look very “drawn”, the curiously two-dimensional 3D — believe me! — makes the whole film seem rather cartoon-like. Immediately after seeing the film, I described it as “thin”.

Possibly a second viewing will engage me more. We’ll see.


 Tricia Youlden teaches Drama at Willoughby Girls High School.