A film that invites every viewer to draw their own conclusions about Julian Assange.




In 2013 Alex Gibney made a very effective documentary with a title that defined exactly what was on offer: We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. It might well be supposed that that film would be the most appropriate one with which to compare this new documentary by Laura Poitras which studies the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from 2011 onwards. But that is not the case: Gibney was taking a broad view as is underlined by the admirable footage in his film centred on the hacker Private Manning who is only glimpsed in Risk. The fact is that Risk is very directly a companion piece to the film that Poitras made in 2014 about Edward Snowden, Citizenfour. In each case the film is an intimate portrait of a controversial individual and, although Citizenfour was highly regarded by many, my own view is that Risk is much superior to it.


In both works Poitras provides the valuable service of allowing someone who has made headlines to speak for themselves, thus enabling the viewer to make his or her own assessment of them. But, where Citizenfour largely relied on extensive interview footage set up so that Snowden could discuss what he had done and seemed in the process to cover little that was not already well known, Risk does something else entirely. Ranging over a period of six years (albeit with a gap between 2013 and 2016) it shows what was happening as it was happening. Most viewers will be familiar with Assange’s situation ranging from American claims that he breached security by releasing hacked documents through WikiLeaks to the rape accusations made against him by two Swedish women. And, of course, the story is still unfolding with Assange remaining in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy where he was given political asylum in order to escape extradition demands which he saw as evidence of America’s continuing determination to nail him.


Risk offers variety by travelling the world, but without ever pausing for too long away from England and Assange. Poitras, who adds her own comments on the soundtrack, admits that this finished film is not the one she set out to make. She seems to have started out feeling supportive of Assange but comes to admit that she no longer trusts him and indeed his calm, unemotional manner makes him come across as a thinking man who strategically calculates his moves. That does not necessarily make him untrustworthy and, when discussing what he did that made him into the controversial figure he is now, he can argue effectively just how dangerous inaction would have been. But the function of Risk is not to come down on one side or the other and, if Poitras expresses her doubts and reveals that Assange politely indicated his disapproval of her film when a cut of it was sent to him, there is no need for us to agree. Whatever our personal conclusions, the value of Risk is that Assange’s willingness to be filmed means that it brings us the inside story. However ambiguous that story may seem, it is fascinating.             




Featuring  Julian Assange, Sarah Harrison, Jacob Appelbaum, Renata Avila, Jennifer Robinson, Lady Gaga, Joseph Farrell, Erinn Clark, Helena Kennedy, Daniel Ellsberg. 


Dir Laura Poitras, Pro Brenda Coughlin, Yoni Golijov and Laura Poitras, Narration written by Laura Poitras, Ph Kristen Johnson, Laura Poitras and Katy Scoggin, Ed Erin Casper, Melody London and Laura Poitras, Music Jeremy Flower.


Praxis Films Berlin/Praxis Films/First Look Media/Field of Vision II-Dogwoof.
92 mins. Germany/USA. 2016. Rel: 30 June 2017. Cert. 15.