Coming off her Oscar-winning film “Citizenfour,” about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, director Laura Poitras returns with “Risk,” a profile of another controversial figure in the hacker community: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Filming over six years, Poitras got access to Assange that she even admits in the documentary was beyond what she expected. The WikiLeaks head navigates his budding popularity while also fighting off allegations of sexual assault and rape. Those claims are why he has remained inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London since the summer of 2012, when the country granted him asylum.
The most unfiltered look at Julian Assange
Poitras is a fly on the wall during some of the most important moments of WikiLeaks’ existence: the series of leaks provided by Chelsea Manning, assisting Snowden to leave Hong Kong after news broke of his leaks, and most recently, the leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 US presidential election (though there are accusations that Russia worked with WikiLeaks on the leaked election emails, Assange denies the charge).
But then there’s the glance at simply the man behind the site. Poitras portrays Assange as someone filled with contradictions, who is constantly paranoid and extremely vindictive. Poitras is under the impression through most of the movie that Assange doesn’t like her, though he continues to give her an incredible window into his daily life.
Poitras is even there beside Assange in the hotel room preparing for his secretive dash to the Embassy of Ecuador, which included him coloring his hair and sporting a goatee so he wouldn’t be recognized as he sped on a motorcycle through London.
Poitras also offers glimpses into how her life has been affected by being in Assange’s inner circle. She speaks of being detained in airports, and there’s leaked FBI audio of agents talking about her, saying the American filmmaker is “anti-US.”
Then there’s Poitras’ involvement with Snowden. When Assange sees that Poitras was behind the footage of Snowden revealing his reasons for leaking, the WikiLeaks figurehead becomes enraged that Poitras didn’t bring the Snowden info to him (it was released by The Guardian). It’s just another example of Assange’s creepy Jekyll-and-Hyde persona.
This isn’t the first movie about Assange. There was also the forgettable 2013 fictionalized movie “The Fifth Estate” with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Assange. That same year, we got Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” which delves more into the Chelsea Manning chapter of the group.
But “Risk” gives us the most unfiltered look at Assange we’ve seen. In the end, it shows us a complex man you’ll have more questions about than answers after seeing the movie.
“Risk” opens in theaters Friday and airs on Showtime later this year.