Risk

Watched: 29 August

Laura Poitras’ lastest documentary is a study of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, the Australian programmer who has been holed up in the Ecuador Embassy in London for the past five years, despite the fact that an investigation into an alleged rape in Sweden has now been dropped; Assange would, however, face criminal charges after breaching his bail conditions if he were to leave the embassy. The film begins with Poitras as a watching presence, filming Assange and his inner circle (which is fascinating) while WikiLeaks is under sustained attack from the US Government (principally), and perhaps this footage would have formed the basis of the film she was going to make, which had the working title Asylum. She ended up re-cutting the work, though, into Risk‘s more critical presentation of Assange as a flawed character; a move that was triggered in part by some of his own on-screen comments about women and partly, as Poitras acknowledges via her candid voiceover, in the wake of her own brief affair with activist and Assange supporter Jacob Applebaum, who was publicly accused of abusing women in 2016. Some reviewers have criticised Poitras for entering into an affair with one of the subjects of the film, though the version released in 2017 seems balanced and honest to me, mostly as a result of her own commentary; Assange himself has been left disappointed by the portrait, which at times becomes absurdly comic – witness his bizarre chat with Lady Gaga, for example, a cringe-inducing moment for all concerned that’s included here in a truncated form. (***½)

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