A filmmaker would have to be inept to have access to Julian Assange and not come away with interesting footage. If you saw Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s intense, Oscar-winning feature about Edward Snowden, you would rightly expect something in the same league in her portrait of Assange called Risk. Instead, the results seem superficial and even redundant, especially if you’ve seen Alex Gibney’s fascinating 2013 documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. It is no secret that the filmmaker changed the tone of her film after its debut at Cannes to reflect her negative feelings toward her subject, but the results still come up short.
In many ways the most interesting aspect of this film is her intermittent narration, which she identifies as production journal entries. She uses this form to question her own judgment at times and let us in on events she can’t portray on camera. Early on, she admits she doesn’t understand why Assange is allowing her so much access when she gets the feeling he doesn’t like her. (This plays out in sharp contrast to a later, more personal revelation.)
Assange is an inherently intriguing character, keenly self-aware yet deeply dedicated to his cause. The closest this film comes to the suspense of Citizenfour is a chilling scene in which the Wikileaks leader and his devoted second-in-command, Sarah Harrison, place a call to Hillary Clinton’s office to warn them that a huge amount of military documents are about to be exposed. Watching this incredible moment play out in real time is extraordinary.
But it’s not enough to make Risk a great documentary, which we have come to expect from this bold and talented filmmaker. In fact, I can only call it a disappointment.
To watch the trailer and learn more about theatrical playdates for Risk, click HERE.