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Critics reviews
Risk
Laura Poitras Germany, 2016
Poitras was loudly criticized by Assange’s supporters for changing it from the hero’s journey she debuted last year at Cannes to something more critical, complicated, and at best ambivalent about the man. Yet ambivalence is the most honest thing about the film. It is the emotion Assange often stirs up in those who support the WikiLeaks mission but are disturbed by its chief missionary.
June 20, 2017
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While Poitras dwells on accusations against Jacob Appelbaum, with whom she was briefly involved, it comes so late in the film as to feel a relative afterthought. The competing theses of the documentary all feel underserved, though, something succinctly displayed in the film’s final twenty minutes: a string of updates and angles, superficially grasped, in search of a pointed relevancy slipping ever out of reach
June 17, 2017
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At Risk in May 2017 is my first time watching Trump’s election in a theater. The images feel suddenly already historical, familiar and cold. I feel stirred and depleted… Poitras’s film captures an eroticism hovering between a plugged-in inner circle and its diffuse audience, between radical action and tired power dynamics. The internet is both subject and vehicle of self and sexuality.
June 01, 2017
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There’s something wonderfully clear-eyed about Risk, even as the questions and moods it ignites are murky and unsettling. The movie’s seven-year span has the eerie effect of collapsing a time of great political change into a short span, giving you the sense that the ground is shifting beneath your feet — which helps, because Poitras has been telling us all along that this documentary is, foremost, about the ground shifting beneath hers.
May 09, 2017
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It’s a far richer documentary than Poitras’s Oscar-winning Citizenfour (2014), about Snowden, partly because it covers a longer period and involves many more locations, but largely because of the personality differences between Snowden and Assange. The NSA whistleblower’s case invites moral and ethical interpretations; Assange and WikiLeaks cry out for psychological ones. Poitras seems aware of this.
May 05, 2017
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Poitras’s sudden lack of access and clear disenchantment with aspects of WikiLeaks and Assange help Risk feel like a living, breathing portrait of a filmmaker and journalist struggling to compartmentalize, a self-portrait by necessity. Perhaps most remarkable, however, is that Poitras ultimately does make sense of the disconnect between the monstrosity of personal character and the validity of principles and professional endeavors.
May 05, 2017
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The reworked result is not a fan film at all — it’s sour-stomached with conflict, an engrossing document of both Assange’s public arc and Poitras’s personal one, as she wrestles with her feelings about his work versus who he is as a person — as she puts it, his "contradictions.
May 05, 2017
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It’s another fascinating piece of cinema-as-history that reminds us that Laura Poitras remains one of our most original, courageous and valuable filmmakers. It is a film that will be prompting debate and study for years to come.
May 05, 2017
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Embedded within the portrait of Assange is Poitras’s own refracted self-portrait, in which she hints at her naïveté regarding Assange’s motives—a naïveté that was already in plain view in “Citizenfour,” from 2014, her film about Edward Snowden, clips of which turn up as a fascinating subplot in this new film.
May 05, 2017
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Despite the intimate access, Assange remains opaque, at times maddeningly so. Risk is both less exciting than Citizenfour, and more nuanced and complex—because while Poitras seemed to like and admire the young whistleblower, she’s conflicted about the slippery Assange. “It’s a mystery why he trusts me, because I don’t think he likes me,” she comments in voiceover.
May 04, 2017
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[The 2016] cut of the film no longer exists. In fact, Risk never acknowledges that it did… Its intended 10-chapter structure is gone, replaced by snippets of flat narration by Poitras. In one voice-over, she wonders why Assange has allowed her to keep filming him for so long when he clearly dislikes her. In another, she admits to having had a sexual relationship with Appelbaum during filming and to knowing that he abused one of her friends. Sometimes, you just have to admit that you fucked up.
May 04, 2017
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Turning against Assange all together would feel like joining forces with the feds; yet celebrating him unabashedly would be naïve. So Poitras has built a ramshackle construct, tacking caveats and qualifiers to her original script, letting the awkward bits go without comment or labeling them “contradictions” without explaining, much less resolving, them. This isn’t the churning of ambiguities; it’s a muddle, a mess.
May 03, 2017
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By bringing us so intimately into her own thought processes, Risk feels richer than even Citizenfour for the way its foundation constantly shifts beneath our feet, as each new scene shines a different light on Assange and his work, and each seems to comment on the preceding one, whether to confirm or to challenge an impression.
May 01, 2017
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The project evidently predated her Snowden documentary, but although it gives a certain insight into the paranoia and delusions of grandeur that even his supporters must admit are a part of Assange’s psyche, it lacks the explosive power of Citizenfour.
July 10, 2016
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While lacking the narrative snap of CITIZENFOUR, it nonetheless returns us to the heightened state of awareness one tends to feel as the quarry of surveillance states. Among the film’s best tidbits (besides a cleverly estranging, nearly Marx Brothers moment when Lady Gaga materializes to interview Assange) is the paranoia-inducing revelation that keystrokes at a computer can be captured by an observer monitoring nearby power lines for vibrations.
July 03, 2016
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[The DPs] trained their lenses on the WikiLeaks enterprise for years, allowing Poitras to achieve an intimate look that speaks to the experience of confinement and, somewhat conversely, the way that an individual can now practically control the world from their home computers. With her team, she achieves a broad scope that captures the messiness of the situation, deviating from Assange on a few occasions to observe concurrent developments…
May 23, 2016
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It’s not as focused or as intense as Citizenfour, Poitras’s Oscar-winning last. Where that film had the constant, real-life thrill of being holed up with Snowden, Risk has the occasional tense scene like watching Assange disguise himself as a biker to flee to the Ecuador Embassy. But Poitras has again secured a coup of access.
May 22, 2016
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If the movie isn’t quite the high-wire act of the previous films, it’s still alarming to watch these operations unfold in real time, and to see the degree of paranoia and precaution that outfits like WikiLeaks involve. The film boasts the kind of amazing access we’ve come to expect from Poitras.
May 20, 2016
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[Citizenfour’s] appeal lay less in its revelations than in the fact that it allowed us to sit in on a moment that changed history. Sadly, this quality is largely missing from her new documentary Risk. We do get to meet WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange, but he hasn’t been as much of an enigma as her previous subjects, and otherwise Risk offers few new insights. What it does offer, as did Citizenfour, is a corroboration of our paranoia.
May 20, 2016
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Throughout the movie, Poitras provides exceptional access to Assange—his own mother is seen in a London hotel room helping to disguise his identity—and his WikiLeaks colleagues.
May 19, 2016
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It never congeals into a single coherent drama, but it offers an engaging collage of Wikileaks’ resilience against daunting odds.
May 19, 2016
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