Without a doubt one of the most current and relevant stories of the information age, WikiLeaks has all the makings of a fantastic techno-thriller: globe-hopping espionage, leaked files from the highest ranks of the most powerful governments in the world, sex scandals, all capped off with one of the most chameleonic leading characters of recent times, Julian Assange. This October sees the release of The Fifth Estate, with Assange played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and perhaps in that movie the manipulative elements that are accepted in an adaptation will be better received than they are here.
Not that Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney doesn't know what he's doing, as you would expect from the man behind such provocative films as Taxi To The Dark Side, Mea Maxima Culpa and Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room. The birth of WikiLeaks is hugely engaging and massively influential on our everyday lives today; a place where troubling secret information could be freely leaked to the public without any fear of repercussions, the website founder Assange had a hand in some of the most devastating revelations of the past decade. But with notoriety comes infamy, and once the attention is taken off what they were revealing and on to those who revealed it, every shade of contradiction and political mudslinging is brought to the fore.
However, Gibney also gets in his own way when telling what should be a linear, dead-ahead story. Instead, he weighs it down with too many flourishes, desperately attempting to be cinematic with endless on-screen graphics and a heavy Trent Reznor-esque score. In its attempt to be The Social Network of documentaries, The Story of Wikileaks calls attention to some of the weaker links in the storytelling. For example, why focus so much on one person's sexuality when it has so very little to do with the story? In doing this Gibney completely glosses over some very pertinent events and information.
In the end, We Steal Secrets does end up being more interesting and thought-provoking than any fictional techno-thriller, but in trying to compete in terms of entertainment, it smacks of trying too hard.