Ashvegas movie review: We Steal Secrets – The Story of WikiLeaks

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (Focus World)

To Catch a Wannabe Albino.
(Focus World)

From its first posting of classified U.S. government documents, the exploits of WikiLeaks and its enigmatic, white-haired founder Julian Assange have fascinated millions worldwide.  Such current affairs all but scream out for a filmmaker to investigate and boil down the information into something digestible for the masses, and in We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, Alex Gibney has done just that.  For a director whose past of-the-moment subjects include Enron and U.S. torture practices, and who is currently in post-production on a Lance Armstrong documentary, the pairing seems close to ideal.  Based on the final cut, however, either the website’s actual story is less tantalizing than we’ve been led to believe, or it truly is spectacular and Gibney’s new film simply fails to present it as such.


“I have no idea what’s in my hand, but I don’t trust it.”
(Focus World)

True to its title, We Steal Secrets presents the story of WikiLeaks, but does so in an almost uncertain manner.  Unable to locate a tone or, until the very end, focus the storytelling in a way that makes a clear argument about the site or Assange, Gibney’s film wafts between various story strands with little sense for continuity.  Throughout the overlong process, the information’s inherent interest often shines through, though is far from presented in the most compelling manner.

As with Casino Jack and the United States of Money, Gibney presents transcripts of text onscreen, retyped as if being seen for the first time.  While the ridiculous content of Jack Abramoff’s emails fit in well with the wild nature of the earlier film, each time somber chat dialogue between leak-to-be Pfc. Bradley Manning and his hacker confidante Adrien Lamo is recreated, it disrupts any flow built up to that point.  In response, We Steal Secrets is then forced to rebuild its sense of rhythm, something its traditional documentary components are ill equipped to pull off.

 (Focus World)

Whistle: blown.
(Focus World)

Even with this meandering approach, powerful messages indeed come together at the end.  Through strong interviews with major WikiLeaks players and those who knew Manning, compelling arguments are eventually made for the story’s true hero and possibly its true villain, one who lost sight of the website’s original mission when odd personal complications arose.  Reaching these points, however, is unnecessarily time-consuming and often tedious, its mix of presentation styles holding it back instead of adding to the intrigue.  Whether these shortcomings are inherent of the material or merely Gibney’s handling of it won’t be clear until more filmmakers turn their lenses on WikiLeaks, but as the first major documentary on the website, We Steal Secrets leaves much to be desired.

Grade: C+

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

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.


Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1


  1. John R. July 5, 2013

    Edwin –

    I totally disagree with you.
    Often I pass by the movie reviews on Ashevegas because I find the movies themselves to often be drivel, but this film (while it may not be Oscar material – for whatever that is worth) is actually something that is important to what people should know.

    From people in Asheville deserving to know if their police chief or city council is corrupt, to North Carolinian’s standing in the Capitol on Mondays to profess a need to be heard and represented, to the people of the USA needing to know what Edward Snowden had to say – to the people of the world having their right to know what the world powers that be have the capability to do … this film fits into what is actually important to our lives as human beings on this Earth.

    I give an E – as in Everyone who is capable minded should watch it.

    1. Edwin Arnaudin July 7, 2013

      So, you saw the film and thought it was good?

      I don’t have an issue with the material, just the way Gibney presents it.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.