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.


Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024