We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

 
(i)

 

Documentary tackles complex issues of truth and safety.
  • Review Date: May 22, 2013
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 130 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Ultimately the documentary doesn't judge any of the characters involved in the WikiLeaks controversy, presenting the ideas of both those who firmly believe in the importance of open, unfettered access to information and those who believe there are some things the public shouldn't see -- at least not while it could compromise the safety and diplomacy of nations around the world.

Positive role models

It's difficult to consider anyone depicted in the documentary as a role model. Everyone is deeply flawed, no matter how pure their intentions. Julian Assange believes in "splendide mendax," Horace's term for being "nobly untruthful." Despite Assange's "uncompromising" belief in complete transparency and exposing secrets, he apparently has no problem in keeping his own secrets and spreading untruths when it suits him. Bradley Manning is a self-described "broken soul" who wants people to know the true cost of war, but by revealing confidential national secrets, he's clearly breaking the law. And then there's Adrian Lamo, who turned Bradley Manning in and seems regretful but is portrayed as a fame hound.

Violence

The "Collateral Murder" footage that Bradley Manning is accused of leaking to WikiLeaks shows American forces killing civilians they mistook for enemy combatants. The accompanying stills depict bloody, charred, and dismembered bodies. That footage is played again and again, as is video from other coalition forces strikes and documentary footage of the Twin Towers burning on 9/11.

Sex

Detailed discussion of Julian Assange's sexual coercion case, including an interview with one of the plaintiffs suing him for refusing to put on a condom and then purposely ripping it. References to an HIV test.

Language

Frequent strong language, especially from Assange. He says things like "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bastards," "goddamn," "Jesus Christ," etc. Some swear words are shown in transcripts of leaked Internet chats and videos.

Consumerism

Coca-Cola, Google, and lots and lots of Apple computers are mentioned or visible.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults are shown drinking and dancing in footage of a club outing.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks is an intense survey of one of the most controversial information "leaks" in recent history. Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney tells the story of two men: Australian WikiLeaks founder/visionary/hacker Julian Assange and American soldier/computer whiz Bradley Manning, who is, by all accounts, the whistleblower responsible for leaking thousands of confidential videos and memos to Assange's "anonymous" online dropbox. There's grim violence, particularly in the leaked war footage, that's too disturbing for younger audiences, as well as strong language ("f--k," "a--hole," etc.) and references to sex and sexual coercion. Viewers need to be mature enough to handle the movie's difficult themes and issues and to figure out what they believe about the secrets and lies discussed in the documentary.

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What's the story?

In WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS, prolific Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney follows the fascinating and highly mythologized story of the infamous WikiLeaks scandal by alternating the focus between Australian hacker-turned-activist Julian Assange and young, emotionally fragile Army whistleblower Bradley Manning. Gibney explores the motivations behind the WikiLeaks site -- an anonymous, highly secure dropbox for classified documents and information -- and Manning's need to not only share thousands of top-secret military and diplomatic files (including the "Collateral Murder" clip of an American strike that killed civilians) with Assange but also to reveal himself as the leak to another hacker, Adrian Lamo, who eventually turned Manning in (he's now imprisoned). The docu also probes into the secrets that Assange wasn't willing to spill -- like the truth about the sexual coercion case against him in Sweden.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Gibney has tackled incredibly tough subjects in his career as a filmmaker -- the war in Afghanistan (Taxi to the Dark Side), corrupt super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Casino Jack and the United States of Money), and the child-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church (Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God). So a documentary about the highly revered (or reviled, depending on where you stand on the issue) Assange and Manning is clearly in Gibney's wheelhouse as a nonfiction storyteller. He manages to present a balanced view of all the people involved in the scandal and finds articulate international hackers and transparency journalists who fervently believe in WikiLeaks' mission to give people access to the truth -- however horrifying those truths might be to the general public.

Although Assange's ardent supporters may think Gibney has villainized the Aussie, the provocateur does that all by himself by not allowing the filmmaker to interview him directly (although there's more than enough additional footage of Assange to fill the documentary). Gibney spends more than two hours giving audiences a look at the timeline and the events of the story -- and also pulling back the curtain on the many myths surrounding Assange (particularly the idea that the two Swedish women who filed a sexual coercion case against him were somehow tied to the CIA or other international forces, a claim that Gibney found no evidence to support). No one emerges as a pure hero or bad guy, but, at the very least, Manning, who's the one in prison, comes off as highly sensitive and in some ways just a young broken soul desperate to make people understand the ugly truth of war and national security.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about whether We Steal Secrets portrays its subjects objectively or with any bias. Do documentaries have to be subjective? 

  • How does the filmmaker debunk some of the myths surrounding the WikiLeaks story? What did you learn about the people involved?

  • Discuss the idea of Mendax, Assange's old hacker name, and how it applies to him now. Do you think he's "nobly untruthful"? Is he portrayed as a villain, a visionary, or a bit of both?

  • Do you think the potential cost of exposing secrets (imprisonment, retaliation) is worth it if the global citizenry can know what's really going on in a war or behind the scenes in corporations, the government, or international relations?

  • Does We Steal Secrets make you respect hackers? Why or why not? What do you think of Adrian Lamo? Do you think he trapped Manning by befriending him, or do you believe he was in what he called a "no-win situation"?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:May 24, 2013
DVD release date:September 10, 2013
Cast:Adrian Lamo, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange
Director:Alex Gibney
Studio:Focus Features
Genre:Documentary
Topics:History
Run time:130 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:some disturbing violent images, language and sexual material

This review of We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks was written by

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Educator Written byEmma Goldstein May 25, 2013
 

JULESY WON'T PLAY

“Why are you crying, Alex?” said Ms. Goldstein. “Jules won’t play with me.” He wiped his nose on his sleeve. Little Julian banged away on his Fisher-Price typewriter without looking up. “Don’t like him,” he said. “You know we’re supposed to play with everyone.” “He has two and a half million dollars and he won’t give me any.” “It’s mine.  Gov’ment gave it to me.” Up skipped Sarah and Jenny, holding hands. “Come play with us, Julesy,” said Sarah. “Let’s go bounce on the trampoline.” Jenny stuck her tongue out at Alex.  “Doo-doo head,” she said.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism

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