The backstory is more interesting than most of the film: a political documentarian recuts her film after politics are upended. If nothing else, Risk captures disorientation: a leftist folk hero helped elect Trump, and you have to wonder if even a transparency organization can be trusted. The last 15 minutes are haunting, but Risk is but a snapshot of a story that's far from over. Someday, the full movie will be made.
This is more about Laura Poitras' growing disenchantment for Assange than a documentary about Assange and Wikileaks. As such, it is a much more personal project than her previous efforts (including the companion piece, Citizenfour), and, in many ways, less interesting.
Ostensibly a profile of Assange, the film instead profiles the world Assange, Poitras, Snowden, and others of their ilk inhabit. A world of privacy and surveillance, crime and freedom. Since it is a world still trying to figure itself out, the film stutters a bit in finding a voice but captures well the unsteady ground its inhabitants walk on.
Separating the art and the artist is what we do with filmmakers. So let's start with Wikileaks - I have so much respect for what the group do as a challenge to unaccountable international authority. With regards to Julian Assange's history and allegations against him, I don't know. I wish there was a video trial where no extradition variable was involved. As for Poitras' agenda with this doc, I have many questions.
People talk without saying much in Risk, discordant with the global movements that Poitras weaves together. Levels a lot at our expectations of public figures, but also vindicates our doubt; doubt that righteous good exists, that continual risk reaps benefits. I appreciated the doubt that Poitras seems to have against her own film, and in the second-guessing fragments I felt strongly: this feels like our world today.
The film struggles to find its voice which is, in all likelihood, a concomitant of Laura Poitras's documentation of a man manacled by the incapacity to find his own. 'Risk' is an unapologetic profile of perchance the world's most controversial figure (WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange) which judiciously accentuates the paradox that exists between WikiLeaks's stated mission and the ulterior ambitions of its figurehead.
Risk often feels like a disjointed work-in-progress, instead of a fully fleshed narrative, which is somewhat understandable considering the nature of the subject and his continuing fight. So if on the one hand, the unprecedented access to Assange and his team can be riveting, on the other Risk lacks the social exposé Poitras is so gifted at building.
I get it, Poitras doesn't like Assange. Risk doesn't compare favorably to Citizenfour, her compelling and emotional documentary about the Snowden revelations. It's worth watching for the unique access she had to Wikileaks from 2010-2014. But Poitras's disgust for Assange is so strong that she gets in her own way.