The Orphanage -- The Stealth of Creepy Children


                                   Presented by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Juan AntonioBayona, the Spanish crisp horror “The Orphanage” (“El Orfanato”, 2007) proceeds down a unusual path in a classical horror style. Like Del Toro’s “Pans Labyrinth”, Bayona’s film has the same ardor for the curiously romantic and fantastical view of terror. In the elegant mood, the movie resembles the tone of “The Others” (2001) and “Devil’s Backbone.” There’s influence of many European art house horror movies and also pays respectful nods to classic spine-chillers like “Psycho”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Innocents.” However, Bayona’s nuanced style makes the movie to look fresh, devoid of the cheap tricks of pop video horror.

                                 The film starts with a prologue, where a group of children are merrily playing tag. Behind them lay a Gothic, Victorian stone mansion, which is used as an orphanage. A 7 year old girl is facing the tree and her friends are closing in on her, but little do they know that their favorite friend is going to depart (she is adopted). Now the story is fast-forwarded to thirty years. The 7 year old girl Laura (Belen Rueda), now a nurse, returns to the abandoned orphanage where she grew up. Her husband is a doctor -- Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and they have adopted a son Sim√≥n (RogerPr√≠ncep). Their reason for purchasing this big mansion is to turn it into a home for children with special needs.


                               Like the boy in “Shining” Simon makes friends. But, they can’t be seen by his parents. He calls his imaginary friends by the names Watson and Pepe. Simon is tested HIV-positive and takes drugs every day. Soon, strange things begin to happen. A strange, sinister lady walks the grounds of mansion. Simon and Laura explore a seaside cave near the orphanage and Simon gets acquainted with a third friend Tomas. Few days later, Simon disappears. The dismayed couples seek the help of police but they couldn’t find a hint of his disappearance. The police believe that Simon is dead, since he can’t live longer without the drug intake. Six months later, Laura is visited by medium (Geraldine Chaplin), whose words make her take a spooky inward detour, 30 years before.

                              “The Orphanage” has many unsettling moments rather than genuine frightening moments: the creepy masked figure; odd apparitions; childish teetering and strange noises. These things increase the story’s tension and mystery level, instead of giving us spooky moments, then and there.  Of course, on the hands of a lazy film-maker all these elements would be turned into cliches, but director Bayona understands craft, performance and atmosphere of a horror flick and rolls it slowly down the steps towards audiences’ fears.  Isolated, gargantuan mansion with groaning staircases are not new incredible ideas but the mood established is perfectly lacquered with fear.


                               Isolation is one of the main subtext in this Spanish frightener. Like del Toro’s, Sergio G. Sanchez’s script is also connected to history (like World War II or Civil War), which suggests that atrocious events can happen when no one is looking. The forgotten or isolated children of this film are all from an era, where matters are hermetically sealed. Unlike, the Oscar winning “Pans Labyrinth”, “Orphanage” isn’t without flaws. Towards the end, the film tries hard to stay within the genre and makes a loophole or two on its way.

                              Sanchez’s script moves from one suspenseful set piece to the next. He swiftly alternates the script from ghost story to crime procedural, consistently bringing up the emotional quotient. Bayona’s widescreen framing and merry-go-around camera movements display a visual elegance for springing up the horror. Belen Rueda anchors the film with her riveting, emotional performance. The fraught energy she showcases is one of the reasons for the film’s scary tone.  Veteran actor Geraldine Chaplin plays the role of psychic. The sequence where she wanders, looking for the spirits is one of the most chilling scene of modern horror. There is no gore throughout the film. Much of the scariness is diffused by divergent sounds and crisp editing.

                             “The Orphanage” is not a suspense/horror classic, but it s a terrifyingly told story that never sags and ultimately assaults the viewer’s nerves. 

Trailer
 



Rated R for some disturbing content and violence 

Best In Show -- Crafty Observational Comedy


                                  The Faux-documentary (or mockumentary) is a term often associated with horror genre. After the great success of “Blair Witch Project”, it has become a common thing for film-makers to make not-so-frightful, shaky camera, low-budget films. But, there’s Rob Reiner’s “This is Spinal Tap” (1984), which incorporated the mockumentary style to get a funny look at the world of rock stars. It was one of the best satires on American rock culture. One of the writers of this hallowed classic was Christopher Guest. He is a mockumentary specialist. He directed and written the 1996 comedy, “Waiting for Guffman” – a satire on small-town theatrical productions. In that same distinctive style, he made "Best in Show" (2000), which follows a group of starry-eyed dreamers on the road to a minor glory.

                                Guest’s comedies are generous-hearted, at the same time makes a biting statement. He sees the American cultural neuroses through the lens of a satirist. His characters walk a fine line between affection and cruelty. “Best in Show”, like Guest’s best, parodies the contestants of major dog show in Philadelphia. But, he never takes a cheap shot and by-passes the predictable jokes and stock plots.


                                At 90 mins, “Best in Show” doesn’t waste its time with over plotting. The film starts with the short introduction of characters who all have a shared goal. They are eccentric, silly dog owners and they have scooped enough to get their pooches into the prestigious Mayflower Kennel Club show, in Philadelphia. Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara) have a Norwich terrier, ‘Winky’ and are preparing for a drive from Florida. Gerry is an owlish kind of guy. His wife, Cookie has an impressive sexual past and finds former boyfriends at every turn. Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock) are uptight lawyer couples. They are obsessed with their Weimaraner, ‘Beatrice’, which even makes them to see a shrink.

                                Harlan Pepper (Christopher Guest) is a fishing-shop owner and hits the road in his RV with high hopes for his bloodhound, ‘Hubert.’ Rich New York gay couple Stefan Vanderhoof (Michael McKean) and Scott Donlan (John Michael Higgins) travel in style and pampers their Shih Tzu, ‘Miss Agnes’ incessantly. Sheri Ann Ward Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge), a trophy wife for an old wealthy guy is carrying on a lesbian affair with Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch) – a professional handler of Cabot’s Standard Poodle, ‘Rhapsody in White.’ The poodle was the ‘Best in Show’ winner for the previous two years.


                               The greatness of this film lies in Guest and Eugene Levy’s impeccable script and the actors who improvise and bring the characters above their stereotypes. Guest and his cast never look down on the characters on-screen. They unconsciously reveal, who the persona's are and at the same time makes us laugh. The director makes us care for the characters and there’s also a lot of tension surrounding the question of who eventually wins the "Best in Show" competition. Guest has instructed his actors to prepare themselves by taking dog-handling classes. He has build up a dog show from scratch for the sake of authenticity. 

                              Among the large cast, Levy, Guest and Catherine O’Hara stand out. Guest engages us with his dead pan comedy and ventriloquism act. Levy gives the hilarious performance as O’Hara’s past boyfriends practically drool on her in his presence. Fred Willard’s presence as on-air TV commentator takes an already funny movie and upgrades it to the next level. He throws out mirthful, riotous one-liners and tries to add some color to the commentary, while the sober Trevor Beckwith (Jim Piddock) provides astute explanations of what’s happening at the center.


                               “Best in Show” is practically a comedy of manners. This movie is not about a dog show. It’s about goal-oriented, obsessive humans, parading around the center with two legs. 

 Trailer



Rated PG-13 for language and sex-related material 

Wages of Fear -- A Nail-Biting Ride with Nitroglycerine




                                 Movie critic, Screenwriter and Legendary film-maker Henri-Georges Clouzet was often referred to as the “French Hitchcock.” He is best known for his 1955 film, “Diabolique”, which still remains as the disturbing psychological thriller of all time. In fact, it is cited that the chilling effect of “Diabolique” is what urged Hitchcock to make “Psycho” (1960).  Before his famous thriller, Clouzet made a controversial suspense film, which made him to be barred for two years by the French “purification committee.” It was called “Wages of Fear” (“Le salaire de la peur”, 1953). The controversial capitalist elements this film possessed was considered shocking for its time.

                                 The existential suspense/drama opens in a tiny, beat-down village named ‘Las Piedras.’ The village is situated somewhere in the heart of South America. Four men are gathered at the bar with nothing better to do. They are flirting with a cleaning girl and are barely managing to survive in this poverty-riddled hell. A powerful oil giant in that area wants drivers to deliver a ton of nitroglycerin. In order to fix the oil-field fire, the nitro is needed to cap the oil-well. The place is situated 300 miles from the village. The drivers had to travel in the rural roads with no safety measures. The oil company loads nitroglycerine into two trucks, thinking that, at least one of them will make it through.


                                 Led by Mario (Yves Montand) the group consists of a self-interested German Bimba (Peter Van Eyck), Luigi (Folco Lulli) and Jo (Charles Vanel). These guys grab the opportunity of driving just to avoid the boredom. The company offers them $2,000, which is a large amount for them. The suicidal, suspense-driven journey starts by demonstrating that what would happen if a drop of nitro is spilled. A wooden platform over a valley, a boulder that blocks the road and an oil swampland – all these things wait for them at every turn and tests the wagerers courage.

                                 “Wages of Fear” won Palme d’or award at Cannes. In 1955, when it was screened in America, the movie was cut nearly 20 percent. The main reason behind this is Clouzet’s depiction of how an American oil company ravages the Third World countries. The oil company, in the film, is named as “Southern Oil Company”, but its initials S.O.C. indirectly suggest the American giant “Standard Oil Company.” This is clearly Clouzet’s indictment of American companies as being ruthless, money-grubbing and amoral. Clouzet’s approach couldn’t be considered hard-hitting by today’s movie standards.  However, he hasn’t glossed over the metaphysical-existential tones like the mundane Hollywood studio movies of that time.


                                   Clouzet smartly separates the movie into two segments. The entire first hour is used for establishing the characters and scenario. This segment was criticized for its slow pace, but this is the part which shows us that, what drives these anti-heroes to take such a crazy job. They are called as ‘anti-heroes’ because Clouzet earlier shows that these men are not ‘good’ in any sense of the world. Mario abuses a local barmaid, Jo likes to exploit anyone in any situation and Bimba, the German expatriate simply hates his life. However, vile these characters are the second cliff-hanging segment makes us care for their fate. Mario, the alpha male of the group emerges as a leader. He doesn’t hide his fear, but controls in very well. On the other hand, Jo, despite putting on a mask of macho bravado, proves to be a whimpering coward.  Like the characters in John Huston’s “Treasure of Sierra Madre” (1948), the men exhibit primal fears and through the fear, the audiences are hooked into the prolonged uncertainty.

                                   The 90 minute second segment is meticulously constructed by Clouzet. The production team faced many difficulties by the merciless weather and several accidents.  Armand Thirad’s atmospheric black-and-white cinematography grabs our attention right from the haunting opening sequence. Like, Hitchcock, Clouzet’s captures the tension visually rather than the high-strung dialogues. The proficient editing also maximizes the tension and peels over the layers of the characters. French movies are famous for their subtexts. Wages of Fear’s subtext is its existential viewpoint. Death is identified as a power that neither neglects age, morality nor bravery. Clouzet uses the fitting final act to depict this viewpoint with a force of biting irony.


                                Yves Montand’s Mario was one of his first leading roles. His rugged looks and a large screen presence make Mario, the front man. After, “Wages of Fear”, he had a long successful career and received numerous plaudits. As the so-called hard-hearted guy, Charles Vanel etches out the portrait of a frail, weak old man who is so afraid to die that he is willing to return to his aimless life in the village. Vanel’s performance earned him an award at Cannes, 1953. He went on to work with Clouzet in three films, including the role of Inspector Fichet in “Diabolique.”

                                “Wages of Fear” was remade by William Friedkin, in1977 (“The French Connection”, “Exorcist”) under the title “Sorcerer.” Considering the usual Hollywood remakes, this one was well-made. The technical aspects were good, but the movie lacked character interaction and subtext. The movie was available in different cuts and all were hailed by the critics. I would prefer the 145 minute director’s cut, which has Clouzet’s ever-deepening, full vision.


                                   For those who are hooked into Hollywood’s mayhem-inflicting action blockbusters, “Wages of Fear” might seem like an out-dated item, but, any way give it a chance to realize how Clouzet has perfectly intertwined tension/suspense and character development, six decades ago.  This movie is the grand-father of all adrenaline-fueled thrill rides. 

Trailer


Waking Ned Divine -- A Benign-Spirited Comedy


                                     Low-budget Irish comedies are a delight to watch. They are seeped in Irish tradition and folksy Irish humor. Of course, many comedies falls flat without any coherent plot. Kirk Jones’ “Waking Ned Devine” (1998) belongs to the smoothly entertaining kind and presents us an an detached community of aged characters seemingly free from the compunction to work, and easily tempted into impish alcoholism. It’s a melodrama with a hint of black humor and eventually an ambiguously moral story about duplicity and stealing.

                                   The movie’s events takes place in a picturesque, tiny Irish village named ‘Tulaigh Mohr’ or ‘Tully More.’ There are 52 residents in this town. One day, two wily old men, Jackie O’ Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael (DavidKelly) read in a paper that one of their fellow villagers has hit the lotto jackpot, worth nearly six million pounds. They are so excited. Jackie, his wife Annie (Flanagan) and Michael decides to find out who that lucky neighbor is. They look out for any polarities of sudden wealth among their friends. After scrutinizing the town’s frequent lottery ticket purchasers, Jackie comes to the conclusion that the winner must be Ned Devine.


                                    But, Ned Devine is dead. He is dead right before the start of the film. He was sitting in front of his Television clutching the 6.8 million pound lottery ticket. A smile etched in his face, but he was dead of shock. We have to assume that his aged heart can’t take the  pleasure passed through the Television set. The old duos find Ned and also notices that Ned has signed the ticket. A devious scheme forms in the mind of Jackie. They phone the lottery board and the lotto man (Brendan F. Dempsey) arrives to check out the winner’s credentials. The rest of the film is about Jackie and Michael’s guileful plan to extract the money and split it among the residents of village.   

                                   “Waking Ned Devine” is an excursion into feel-goof territory. It doesn’t have any of the twentieth century idelogies  and the people, here, revel in their own sheltered community values. The movie is often compared with British comedy “The Full Monty”, but it has none of the latter's socio-political complexity. The desperate attempts of these lovable rogues are rooted with greed, but somehow we care about their childlike innocence and goal. The reason why we care is the robust script filled with magical moments and success of the actors, especially Bannen and Kelly. The script doesn’t fall into the trap of being too clever. It stays simple and is braided with enough irony and charm. It stays away from being overly sentimental and even the melodramatic parts are tinted with sarcasm an humor.



                                      The old pair, Jackie and Kelly, performed by Bannen and Kelly are infused with a wily determination. Whether skinny-dipping  at a cove or riding a motorcycle , these guys exudes a energy that is of a teenager. The scrawny and wrinkled Kelly displays a great comic timing. Veteran Irish actor Bannen holds the center of the film with wit and dignity. Flannugan is charming as the no-nonsense, supportive wife of Jackie.  Director Kirk Jones, a British ad film-maker, exhibits a under-stated control throughout the movie. He gets maximum out of the swooping passes over the huge fields. Jones’ selection of shots are  beautiful to look at (shot in the historical village owned by Irish government) and shows a surprsing maturity for a debutant writer/film-maker.

                                    “Waking Ned Devine” is not a laugh-out-loud film. It is a simply structured character study of a group of charming people who are worth spending the time with.

 Trailer



Rated PG for some nudity, language and thematic elements

In the Loop -- The Funny and Deadly Games of Politics


                             The absurdity of war; the phrase is not new. It’s been going right when we were dwelling in the caves. Early, the cavemen fought each other with bones, now we are having all this state-of the-art technologies to do a group of individuals’ work. The legendary director Stanley Kubrick dealt with the ridiculous thing that goes on inside a war room. It was thinly veiled spoof of cold war tactics. We had Barry Levinson’s De Niro- Dustin Hoffman starrer “Wag the Dog.” Armando Iannucci’s (the British comic master) “In the Loop” (2009), the British-American drama belongs to that dying group of ‘political satire.’ It’s based on the fantastic BBC television series “In the Thick of It.”


                              The Brits once thundered and plundered the earth with their all-mighty empire. But, now they have lost their status as the key player in global politics. However, they haven’t lost one thing – their wicked wit. “In the Loop” bases its satirical screw-ball comedy in the midst of second Iraq war, where the Anglo-American diplomatic blundering is getting into a new phase. Loose lips swung like unrestrained weapons on the both sides. The result was a war. The movie showcases the conflict on the staff level and makes us see, beneath the comedy, that human race is self-serving, weak and unable to see past its own interests.




                             There is not much of a plot in “In the Loop.” Interesting characters just stumble around and showcases satirically, how broken the system of government is, in both these countries. The TV series regular character Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) reprises his role in this movie. He is the quick-tongued director of communications for the Prime Minister of Britain. He gets into one his rages, when Minister for International Development, Mr. Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) makes a benign comment that “U.S. war in the Middle East is unforeseeable.” That’s just the start. While, Malcolm running around to do damage control, Foster continues to dig himself deeper every time, he faces a camera and microphone.



                             Meanwhile, in the U.S. war hawks are closing in as Linton Barwick (David Rasche), a U.S. State Department official forms a secret war committee. Foster’s anti-war comments comes to the notice of American undersecretary, Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy) and a pacifist American general (JamesGandolfini). They are hell-bent on slowing down the rush for war.  Foster is invited to America to represent the U.K. However, his big mouth aide, Toby (Chris Addison) and Foster’s knack for saying wrongful things push him further into the spotlight.




                             Director Armando neither names the president of US nor the prime minister of Britain. He doesn’t take time to differentiate between Republicans and Democrats or Tories and Labor, but perfectly points out the dangerous ego at work in every administration and its deadly consequences. Although, Armando’s plot is based on Iraq war, the script’s perspectives are broad-based, since the idiocy of 21st century government policies are prevalent all over the world. Iraq war is just a scenario for the allegorical statement. For example, in one scene, Donald Rumsfeld reminiscing Barwick instructs an assistant to strike the undesirable passage from the minutes in a committee meeting. He calmly teaches him that the proceedings don't need to represent what was actually said but what should have been said. Leaking documents and compromising intelligence are also part of any century’s political history.



                                Armando has co-written the script with his TV series pals, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, and Tony Roche. The words they have written are razor sharp and also give the actors a chance to improvise. The swearing tirades are on par with any David Mamet play/movie. Armando and co’s swarms of characters are foulmouthed and irredeemable hypocrites, who are less concerned with body counts than their own ambitions. The low-profile actors enhance the dialogue's sharpness with their body language, especially Capaldi. His bravura performance as the offensive Malcolm is one of the main reasons to watch this movie. Tom Hollander (the villainous guy from ‘Pirates of Caribbean’) as the inept Foster portrays a politician without a spine. Capaldi’s nefariousness is matched by his American counterparts, James Gandolfini and David Rasche, who is delighted to have a live grenade as paperweight.


Director Armando with James Gandolfini


                                Most of the US films dealing with Iraq wars are melodramas, which roots out audience sympathies, whereas the hilarious Brit movie “In the Loop” subtly reminds us of the real consequences of distorted and manipulated languages. Among all the bad-mouthing and hectoring, the film successfully delivers its anti-war message, which rings true. 

 Trailer


Before Midnight – The Odyssey of a Beguiling Couple


                                     Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy might not belong to the list of greatest movies, say, like “Pulp Fiction”, “Citizen Kane” or “Casablanca.” But, the trilogy remains as something intimate, a thing which incites special meaning for people. When Linklater made “Before Sunrise” in 1995, it was praised as the romantic movie of the decade, but no thought that it would be just an episode. A sequel to the first titled “Before Sunset” released in 2004, in which the lovers once again meet up for one rushed, ultimately life-changing afternoon. In the first movie, it was love-at-first-sight or an infatuation which later turned into a romance. The second movie showed the regrets and optimism of the couple as they tried to reconnect. The two movies didn’t resolve anything, but addressed a lot of things. Now, another nine years later, we have “Before Midnight” (2013), where the two crazy romantics discover how much hard work is involved in keeping a relationship.


                                   After walking and arguing in the streets of Vienna (“Sunrise”) and Paris (“Sunset”) the lovers are still doing the same thing, now in Peloponnese peninsula, in Greece (they are vacationing there). The film starts with Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a successful novelist, saying bye to Hank (Jesse’s 14 year old son from previous marriage). Hank says that this is his best summer in his life and takes the plane to Chicago, where his mother lives. Jesse ponders over his estranged relationship with Hank and returns to Celine (Julie Delpy), the love of his life and the woman for whom he divorced his wife. Celine and Jesse have two lovely 8 year old twin girls. Their kindled romance is slowly dying out, like any long-term committed couple. They are coping with each others faults.




                                 The first hour passes through the luminous landscapes of Greece. Jesse and Celine are staying in an old villa of famous writer along with other guests. There is a long dinner scene, which is a joy to watch. The scene is stages an intellectual conversation with light touch, like any classic French New Wave cinema. Then, the couple leaves their kids and head off to a romantic hotel, where their frustrations flare up. Celine is an environmental activist and she is considering taking a job with the government in Paris, whereas, Jesse wants to reconnect with his son and so would like them to move from Paris to the United States. Their naturalistic exchanges provoke us think about love, aging and work.



                                 Director Richard Linklater is one of the best independent film-maker. From the sprawling high-school epic, “Dazed and Confused” to “Before Midnight”, he’s always been interested in motor-mouthed man-boy like character. His movies’ greatest supporting character is the setting (the time and place). They lend a rich texture to the proceedings. All those trademarks are present here, too, and his poetic meditations on youth, and middle age have steadily gotten better. The original “Before Sunrise” was scripted by Linklater, however, the sequels had intimate involvement of Hawke and Delpy in the writing process. 


                                The most powerful aspect of this trilogy is the emotional impact of the conversations: the long uninterrupted takes makes us think that they are someone we know, and their problems seem very real. The ebb and flow of the communication remains undiluted and genuine, unlike the Hollywood’s version of husband/wife relationship. As a viewer, we haven’t even spent three days with these characters, but somehow we know all about them. The script also addresses the various stages of relationships. When they first met at the 20’s they were unbound by responsibility. In the second part, the burden of adulthood and responsibility is slowly weighing on them, now, at 41, they struggle at balancing their respective careers and family.



                                The acting, as usual, is top notch. As Jesse, Hawke always looks into Celine’s eyes to cut into her misery and anguish. He still remains as the fecklessly romantic man-child. Julie Delpy as Celine gives a marveling performance as her character has matured into a harder, more bitterly restrained soul (perhaps with reason). Her epic hotel-room conversation with Hawke reflects the thoughts of many middle-aged women. Thinking about the twin girls, she backs down, stops arguing, and a little later she comes back roaring, after contemplating the anguish of her career failure. Both the actors’ performances make us realize that they are tough people to live with, at the same time we can’t help but root for them to make it work.




                                  Linklater’s camerawork is unobtrusive and they make us feel that we’re invading Jesse and Celine’s privacy. The masterful long take inside the car and then inside later a hotel-room are neither overblown nor underdone. Although the trilogy is based on the same couple, they are tonally different. “Before Midnight” is brilliant than the first two parts, since it explores new things: like grievance and fear. The romances in the first two movies are something we usually see (even though they were excellently scripted and directed). The third film is more practical. Age and long-term commitment has made them to do defensive backtracking and self-justification.



                                  Cinema is often related with over-produced, special-effects ridden, mainstream fare. It’s not there just for the sake of escapist entertainment. I like escapist movies, but I love a movie like “Before Midnight”, which has the power and guts to confront something real and honest. It is a fitting addition to the trilogy and an experience to be cherished by all the movie-lovers.  

Trailer


Before Midnight -- IMDb

Rated R for sexual content/nudity and language

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks -- An Evenhanded Portrayal of Whistle-Blowers



                                     Director Alex Gibney’s (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”, Taxi to the Dark Side”) documentary, “We Steal Secrets” (2013) prods along the familiar story of WikiLeaks and its founder ‘Julian Assange.’ But, this documentary not only stitches together a story we think we already know, but also explores more complex problems and asks some difficult questions. The sole purpose of a group like WikiLeaks is to expose secrets and to inspire a generation of whistle-blowers. But, what happens when the exposers have their own personal demons neatly tucked away? Alex Gibney is fair and evenhanded. He talks to detractors, former co-workers and also supporters. He also deals with another entirely polarizing figure – the lesser known Bradley manning.

                                  The 130 minute David-Goliath-like story starts in 1989. NASA is geared up to launch a plutonium-powered Jupiter probe. A group of Australian hackers hit NASA’s systems with a WANK ("worms against nuclear killers") worm. A then-teenage Assange was believed to be part of those anonymous attackers. As a young activist, he committed himself to “crushing bastards” (as he himself says) through a galaxy of cyber passageways and trapdoors. He eventually assembled a team of ideal ‘hacktivists’ that intercepted and revealed secret Icelandic banking documents, U.S. diplomatic cables, Afghan and Iraq war logs. And so, the eager, charismatic Assange is martyred by his supporters. Yet, we don’t know much about Manning, the geeky intelligence analyst who provided Assange with most daring cache of documents and is now serving 35 year sentence in a federal prison.


                                 One of the mystery often intrigues a news reader is how Manning has access to so much Intel. The reason is very well explained here. Manning was a loner and among other things he repeatedly began to identify himself as a woman. He was devastated by his actions, and so to seek approval for his actions, he established a chat with hacker Adrian Lamo. Lamo, who himself was in a state of quandary revealed Manning’s identify to FBI, eventually resulting in incarceration and torture.

                                  One of the great aspects of this documentary is, director Gibney brings in accusers, associates, few ex-CIA, NSA men and even Barack Obama's State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley for an interview. When Gibney shows Assange’s earlier action – exposing the video of American gunship pilots mowing down Reuters journalists – we feel that this guy stands only for the truth. But, the sexual assault charges and his act of making associates sign a nondisclosure agreement (that includes a multimillion-dollar penalty) makes us wonder that does he still stand for veracity or is he some overgrown teenager, who just likes to rebel against any authority.

Director Alex Gibney and James Ball (former employee of WikiLeaks)

                                   The popular opinion about the two sexually assaulted women is that they are set up by CIA. It’s an alluring assumption, but Gibney’s interview with one of the accuser makes us think a lot. Further interviews with former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg and ‘Guardian’ journalist Nick Davies paints us a portrait of a man, who is distanced from real life to really care about what damage he might do.

                                  Gibney is highly sympathetic to the fate of Manning. He hasn’t interviewed both of the main subjects (Assange wouldn't cooperate after the director sought an on-camera interview), but we can feel his shifting feelings for Manning. Assange is now living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London trying to avoid extradition to Sweden, whereas, Manning has suffered lots of tortures and arguably a whistleblower in the purest sense of the word, even though what he did was treason in the eyes of his own country. Even some Defense Department officials appear surprisingly sympathetic to the torture of Manning.


                               The prolific Oscar winning film-maker sprawls various materials, but eventually makes us experience the full scope of this scary, ugly story. The film is a little long, since Gibney explore new avenues and incorporates new materials rather than being fixed on a single subject. However, all those portions finally raise provocative questions about the limits of loyalty and responsibility.

                               WikiLeaks supporters and Assange has denounced “We Steal Secrets.” It’s an irony, since the same man insisted that all information is good information. It’s not an easy task to achieve what Assange has achieved, but at the same time we are subtly insisted that he too is a fallible-human being.

Trailer

 


Rated R for some disturbing violent images, language and sexual material