Documentarian Patrick Forbes makes an obvious effort to maintain balance and objectivity in “WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies,” his lucid and comprehensive account of what was arguably the most significant leak of war-related classified material since Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers. Pic is not a critical expose of U.S. foreign policy, however, but rather a meticulously detailed examination of the short-lived and often contentious relationship between Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing organization, and the editors of three mainstream news outlets that printed material obtained by Assange’s outfit. Global fest and tube venues beckon.
Those predisposed to view Assange as hubristic and self-promoting will find little here to dispel that impression. Still, Forbes allows the WikiLeaks founder unchecked freedom of expression in oncamera interviews as Assange asserts his absolute right and moral duty to widely circulate, in complete and uncensored form, Iraq War logs and diplomatic cables that might embarrass the U.S. government.
Time and again, however, the docu recalls a famous admonition of Oscar Wilde: “The truth is rarely pure, and never simple.” Pic offers troubling testimony from editors of the New York Times, Germany’s Der Spiegel and England’s the Guardian, all of whom note their grave misgivings about printing the leaked material without, at the very least, redacting the names of innocent bystanders. Assange, it should be noted, does not appear to be quite so troubled about possible collateral damage in the pursuit of truth.
Pic briefly deals with the widely publicized Swedish rape charges against Assange, who insists, with a fair degree of persuasiveness, that the accusations are part of a plot to discredit him. Considerably more time is devoted to the ongoing case of Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking material to Assange.
Manning remains incarcerated, and the outcome of his eventual trial may ultimately require production of a new epilogue for the docu. But Forbes does include interviews with hacker Adrian Lamo, who goes to elaborate lengths to justify his dropping the dime on Manning. At times, Lamo sounds very much like someone trying to convince himself of something.
Thought-provoking and adroitly constructed, “WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies” could enjoy a considerable shelf life as a teaching tool for college courses in journalism and media studies. Justin Nicholls’ pulsating score occasionally sounds like something cribbed from a direct-to-cable “Bourne Identity” knockoff, but is nonetheless effective.