Risk is Not as Exciting as the Title Implies

Barbara Kennedy May 5, 2017 0
Julian Assange and Sarah Harrison in Risk

Julian Assange and Sarah Harrison stare at their computers in Risk.
Photo courtesy of Praxis Films

A documentary involving Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of the controversial Wikileaks, should be a fascinating watch.  Yet Laura Poitras doesn’t quite get us there.  Sure, the film grants some insight into the man and the concerns surrounding the somewhat infamous internet platform. It just fails to delve deeply enough, or provide a narrow enough focus on any particular aspect, to create a lasting impact.

For those unfamiliar with the transplanted Australian, Julian Assange carries strong beliefs that knowledge is power and that a day without action is a day wasted. Interview footage of him explaining his mindset provides some of the most insightful, even inspiring, moments of the film. Had Laura Poitras been able to dig deeper and elicit more open dialogue with him, she probably could have uncovered some amazing gems. Unfortunately, she admits she could not garner his trust enough to get him to really open up.

She also declares that the film she made was not the one she set out to make. By the end, I question whether or not she really knew what film she wanted to make. The film crew witnessed some crazy turns of events surrounding Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and some of the other players involved. Material shared intrigues me at times.  I respect a filmmaker who recognizes there may be a better story to uncover than the one originally planned.  

I recall a documentary from SXSW several years ago called F**k for Forest. The film followed a group of young adults raising money through sex to save the rainforest. When they tried to give a large sum of money to a village that wouldn’t accept it, my interest peaked. What happened to this village that made them refuse that kind of money? I wished the filmmakers had realized how incredible the story could have been if they’d focused on that. Instead they followed around a bunch of people who were no different from any number of young adults, doing things that could easily be witnessed in any college town on a Friday night. It was a lost opportunity.  

I applaud Laura Poitras for seizing her opportunity to shift her focus to a possibly more intriguing story.  However, the focus always felt too broad, as if she never knew what message she wanted the film to convey.   A somewhat meandering look at the people and events surrounding Wikileaks over the past several years, Risk still provides some insight into the mind of Julian Assange, his staff, and the complexity of Wikileaks and its place in the world.  

I’m glad to have received the insight, yet the film comes across as a distant voyeuristic look. While it tries to uncover something previously unexplored, Risk never quite draws close enough to be genuinely provocative.