WikiLeaks is an online service that publishes documents that the public wasn’t meant to see. Especially documents that disclose the illegal activities and shady dealings of politicians and government agencies. As a result, a lot of politicians and government agencies really don’t like WikiLeaks and do what they can to discredit, disrupt, or shut down the service. One of the ways they do that is by attacking its founder, Julian Assange. And he makes it easy for them, because he’s a real mega-douche who is way too full of himself, and he’s got some not-so-great attitudes and opinions about women.
Risk takes an in-depth look at Assange through the lens of Laura Poitras’s camera. In her Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour, Poitras was able to capture history by recording the meetings that she, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and others had with Edward Snowden as he provided them with evidence of illegal and underhanded practices the American government engaged in to spy on its people. Risk is similar in that it’s a firsthand look at a number of significant events involving Assange and WikiLeaks, captured when and where they were happening (and over a much broader time span than Citizenfour), but it’s just not nearly as momentous or interesting this time around.
Citizenfour was as much about the new information that was brought to light as it was about Snowden himself, but Risk focuses almost exclusively on Assange, and coverage of the kinds of revelations that WikiLeaks made available was a distant second. A lot of time is devoted to his meetings with lawyers about his legal problems, his preening, his paranoia, and his attempts to evade the authorities, but without nearly the tension or gravity of the Snowden doc. It gives very little attention to what WikiLeaks was doing at the time, and virtually no technical information of any kind. It seems to take for granted that everyone already knows what WikiLeaks is, and that may be a reasonable assumption for a documentary like this, but it also mentions the much-less-well-known Tor (a mechanism for anonymizing network communication by bouncing it between multiple systems through multiple layers of encryption) on several occasions without providing the slightest clue as to what it might be. By the end of the documentary, about the only thing that a less-technically-inclined viewer might know about Tor is that there have been allegations that one of its key developers has been involved in sexual misconduct.
Risk is just not what I hoped it would be. It’s way too much Assange and way too little coverage of WikiLeaks, the information that has been leaked, or even a decent explanation of what the heck is going on. Some of the blame can certainly be directed at Assange for being much less interesting and much less likable than Snowden, but the biggest failures seem to be in the film’s direction and editing. It’s far too repetitive and just not that engaging.