Director Laura Poitras follows up her stirring 2014 documentary on Edward Snowden with something that's in the wheelhouse: This intimate exploration of the under-fire Wikileaks creator Julian Assange is a little looser than her Citizenfour, preferring an easy-going fly-on-the-wall style than the studied and structured approach of her Oscar winner. The close confines and the unprecedented restricted access cause director and subject to fall out…
Poitras's Assange here comes across as self-obsessed and wishes nothing more than to perpetuate the notion that he's this hunted knight. It's as if he enjoys the hubbub despite being forced to hole up in London's Ecuadorian embassy. Taking the viewer through the big Wikileaks reveals and their aftermaths (there's a wonderful discussion in Cairo where the mobile companies are accused of collusion with the government by restricting access to the Internet after the Arab Spring) Poitras documents Assange's rising paranoia with a subtle touch, concerning herself with the everyday effects of being watched/followed can have.
Assange dyes his hair. He's wary of not speaking until the door is closed or meeting his lawyer in the woods where even there he believes he's been followed, asking Poitras to check out the rustling of a bush. He communicates by Post-Its, which are then burned. The drone and ambient soundtrack further enhance the air of suspicion that hangs around him.
At times it can be difficult to get into. Scenarios and developments are dropped in seemingly at random; the direction takes a back seat to such an extent that when Poitras sporadic narration pops up it comes a surprise and a reminder that there is someone behind the camera recording these candid conversations. The loosey-goosey style could be down to the slippery Assange, who seems to be always on, always guarded, always wary.
But despite Poitras' engaging style and the intimate nature of the documentary we've been here before and there's little new she manages to dredge up. Lady Gaga pops by to ask a few questions ("Who is following you?") and, legs sprawled across the settee, looks bored by the answers and cares not for Assange’s visible irritation.