A documentary by Laura Poitras. Rated PG
It’s hard to know what to make of this. A very haphazard follow-up of sorts to director Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning Edward Snowden doc Citizenfour, which was the third film in a trilogy, Risk arrives as if it has no real place in the world. The filmmaker began this portrait—if that’s what it is—of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after the release of the Iraq War Logs over six years ago, and just before his claustrophobic asylum inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London following rape allegations made in Sweden. Heavily re-edited after a reportedly more sympathetic cut screened last year at Cannes, it now exists to seemingly spotlight the charmless demeanour of its subject.
In the film’s most talked-about scene, Assange insists on blaming his predicament on “radical feminists”, to the unambiguous horror of his lawyer, Helena Kennedy. Later, Assange mirthlessly quips that he could increase his celebrity with more sex scandals. These moments aside, Risk brings an odd lack of focus to Poitras’s dour exercise, made no more convincing by her flat voice-over interjections. (“I don’t think he likes me” in the beginning; “I don’t trust him” in the end.)
The director insists that she’s made a film about journalism, and to that extent, Assange seems to be at his most sincere when talking about his “obsession” with the criminality of the global power class. At other times he’s vain, stubborn, haughty—or so it appears once Poitras has turned who knows how much footage into a slim 98 minutes. It’s easy to forget that we’re watching a high-profile enemy of the United States who’s been cornered inside a tiny building for over half a decade. Who wouldn’t be a bit fucking weird?
Most disorienting, if you didn’t already know the story, is the demise of colleague Jacob Appelbaum, seen at first in a rousing public confrontation with Egyptian telecom bosses over spying and censorship, later disgraced after another murky round of sex-abuse allegations. That Poitras admits to a relationship with Appelbaum doesn’t exactly help. Eventually, a clueless Lady Gaga turns up to frivolously “interview” Assange, whereupon the entire muddy spectacle hits a cringe-inducing low, probably taking WikiLeaks with it. In Citizenfour, Edward Snowden repeatedly stresses that he doesn’t want to become “the story”. Here’s why.