Tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter for Poitras doc on As­sange

Cape Breton Post - - Entertainment -

With all the weighty and mo­men­tous is­sues raised in “Risk,’’ Laura Poitras’ fas­ci­nat­ing, thorny, and re­mark­ably timely doc­u­men­tary on Julian As­sange, one of the more sub­tly il­lu­mi­nat­ing scenes is about some­thing as in­con­se­quen­tial as a hair­cut.

The Wik­iLeaks founder is get­ting his locks trimmed, and the rapt, lov­ing at­ten­tion be­ing paid to this process by co-work­ers in the room — who, like a team of Hol­ly­wood stylists, take turns with the scis­sors and of­fer sug­ges­tions — makes it look like he’s about to go ac­cept a life­time achieve­ment Os­car. Poitras may have in­cluded this scene as a rare light mo­ment — a coun­ter­point to ev­ery­thing else — but it also gives us a sense of the man and his re­la­tion­ship with those who work for him.

It also shows, as do so many scenes here, the seem­ingly lim­it­less ac­cess Poitras had to her sub­ject, whom she be­gan filming about six years ago. Just as in an­other re­cent, also ex­cel­lent doc­u­men­tary, “Weiner,’’ a mo­ment comes where you just think, “Whoa, how was she al­lowed to do this?’’ In­deed, Poitras says the same thing. “Sometimes I can’t be­lieve what Julian al­lows me to film,’’ she says in voiceover. “It’s a mys­tery to me why he trusts me, be­cause I don’t think he likes me.’’

Whether he likes her or not, and what­ever the chang­ing na­ture of their re­la­tion­ship — there’s been talk of a fall­ing out, but it’s murky — the lee­way As­sange gave Poitras is what el­e­vates this film to must-see view­ing. Yes, Poitras, an Os­car win­ner for “Ci­ti­zen­four’’ about Ed­ward Snow­den, seems less ag­gres­sive at times than she could be in in­ves­ti­gat­ing what makes As­sange tick. Lady Gaga, in a bizarre cameo, is freer with her ques­tions. But it’s hard to quib­ble with the re­sult.

And it’s hard to imag­ine a doc­u­men­tary could be more timely. On Tues­day, three days be­fore the film’s open­ing, Hil­lary Clin­ton came out and said that but for two fac­tors — FBI di­rec­tor James Comey, and Wik­iLeaks — she’d be pres­i­dent. As Poitras makes sure to point out in the fi­nal min­utes of her film — one of its last lines is a news­caster an­nounc­ing Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion — As­sange has be­come a key fig­ure in the nar­ra­tive of the 2016 cam­paign. And she has got­ten closer to him than any film­maker is ever likely to. Edit­ing right un­til the end, and nearly a year af­ter a ver­sion screened at Cannes, Poitras even rushed last week to in­cor­po­rate re­marks by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions that ar­rest­ing As­sange is a pri­or­ity.

As­sange, of course, is still liv­ing in the Ecuadorean Em­bassy in Lon­don, where he took refuge nearly five years ago to avoid be­ing ex­tra­dited to Swe­den, where he’d been ac­cused of rape, ac­cu­sa­tions he de­nies. He has said he fears ul­ti­mately be­ing ex­tra­dited to the United States and be­ing tried for es­pi­onage. In March, Wik­iLeaks re­leased nearly 8,000 doc­u­ments that it says re­veal se­crets about the CIA’s cy­beres­pi­onage tools. Pre­vi­ously it pub­lished hun­dreds of thou­sands of State Depart­ment ca­bles and U.S. mil­i­tary logs from Iraq and Afghanistan.

AP PHOTO

This im­age re­leased by Show­time shows Sarah Har­ri­son, left, and Julian As­sange in a scene from the doc­u­men­tary “Risk.”

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