‘Citizenfour’ director widens focus on WikiLeaks founder
“Risk,” Oscar winner Laura Poitras’ new documentary on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, began filming in 2011, well before her remarkable “Citizenfour.” That intimate look at Edward Snowden, as he exposed massive illegal government surveillance of ordinary citizens, won Poitras the 2015 Academy Award.
“Risk” outlines Snowden’s fortuitous connection with the silver-haired Australian Assange, a controversial figure well before he began his four-years-and-counting asylum residence in Ecuador’s London embassy.
“Risk” shows that it was an Assange associate, lawyer Sarah Harrison, who flew from London to Hong Kong to help Snowden escape arrest and land in Moscow, where he remains.
Unlike the laser focus of “Citizenfour,” “Risk” is diffuse, covering years and various locations to profile the WikiLeaks founder and his organization. Poitras follows Assange, confiding in her voice-over narration that he is someone she “doesn’t trust.”
Assange’s impact on journalism is indisputable — his organization, dedicated to transparency, has repeatedly demonstrated the power of the internet to make news, release information and threaten regimes.
But “Risk” feels scattered. There’s a funny give-and-take when Lady Gaga makes an appearance in Assange’s cramped embassy quarters, asking provocatively blunt questions.
There’s chilling audio of a 2016 FBI meeting in which Poitras is characterized as being “an anti-U.S. reporter.” Really?
But issues that have been raised — about Assange’s virulent hatred of Hillary Clinton and his efforts to sabotage her election, about WikiLeaks’ record of favoring anti-U.S. governments with its exposes — go unanswered.
There’s a bizarre sequence in which Assange attempts to alert Clinton at the State Department that a batch of documents is to be unloaded on the internet. They contact the emergency number — and literally are left hanging.
As a portrait of organizations and governments, how they work or don’t, “Risk” all too clearly details such squirm-in-your-seat moments.
(“Risk” is unlikely to interest children.)