PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — “I don’t believe in martyrs,” asserts Julian Assange in Risk. “But I think people should take risks.”
Well, he himself certainly does, according to the documentary by Laura Poitras, and so does she.
That’s because Risk is a risky flick about a risky undertaking.
Whatever your feelings about Julian Assange, the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks – publisher of news leaks and classified secrets – he is the Australian journalist who is intently focused upon in Risk. And whether you find his actions heroic or villainous or something in between, you’ll have difficulty dismissing the subject an anything but crucial.
The particular risk he’s taking involves the possibility of imprisonment for him and his colleagues, which is why he resorts to disguises.
Risk, divided into ten chronological chapters, comes from documentarian Laura Poitras, whose 2014 film, CitizenFour, about whistle blower Edward Snowden, won the Oscar for Best Documentary.
Risk may be even more intimate and personal, if not more powerful, as it tracks the behavior of Assange and his team from 2011 to the present day.
Assange spends years in a tiny building and faces legal jeopardy.
Poitras, herself the target of an earlier government investigation, tries to display Assange’s motives and contradictions, sometimes seeming to reveal them, other times seeming to gloss over them.
But the themes still emerge – especially power and truth.
The film definitely makes the case for Assange as a political prisoner, yet the considerable access that Poitras gets allows her to reveal Assange’s arrogance as well as his principled bravery.
And we definitely get the sour taste of the oppressive and ubiquitous surveillance techniques and tactics that governments use on civilians.
Our paranoia about this subject, the film argues without straining, is apparently justified.
So her film ends up being not the portrait of one particular man, but a warning of the threat to our civil liberties that global surveillance in the name of security represents.
Late in the film, Risk – and here’s the risky part — calls for Assange’s release from Ecuador’s London embassy, where Assange was granted asylum in 2012 after being holed up there as a virtual political prisoner for four years under order of extradition to Sweden for questioning on allegations of sexual offences.
That’s film making, all right. But it’s activism as well.
So we’ll surveil 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for a provocative and illuminating documentary that proceeds at its own Risk.