The critical consensus on Laura Poitras’ Risk, a portrait of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange filmed over a decade, suggests a looser, less confident version of the director’s Oscar-nominated Citizenfour. While I’d agree that Risk is less focused than Poitras’ study of Snowden, I actually think this is the stronger film.
Citzenfour featured more vital footage, granted – there’s nothing of the import of the hotel room scenes as Snowden’s data trickles out to the public here – but in resisting a coherent narrative, Poitras finds a truth that can’t be so easily confined to the margins. Like media coverage of WikiLeaks, important events are typically relegated to brief intertitles as the story is increasingly dominated by Assange himself.
Where Citizenfour was unmistakably sympathetic to its subject, Risk is far more conflicted. Initial footage suggests someone self-obsessed but well-intended. But rape allegations and leaked DNC emails uncover Assange’s flaws, particularly the misogynistic overtones of his nerd masculinity. The documentary avoids explicitly indicting Assange, but I found it eroding any respect I had for the man. Risk’s looseness reflects the mutability of history …and the unreliability of our idols. There’s no narrative as coherent as Citizenfour, but that’s replaced with the complicated texture of reality.