Risk (NR)

Documentary 97 min. May 5, 2017
By Steve Erickson
However you look at Julian Assange — radical hero, martyr, Trumpist sell-out, probable rapist, victim of his cult of personality -- there's something in Laura Poitras' documentary Risk to confirm your point of view.

Poitras began making this film before her much-celebrated Edward Snowden coming-out-to-the-world portrait, Citiizenfour (2014), and had access to Assange as far back as 2011. Risk at last premiered as a work-in-progress at Cannes last year, in a much different form. According to journalists who saw it then, that version was far less critical of Assange than this final cut, and lacked the probingly self-critical voiceover that Poitras has now added.

This is not Citizenfour Part Two, though for both films Poitras gained intimate access to her subjects -- especially here, in long stretches of Assange's house arrest. Citizenfour ran the risk of being written off by skeptics as an apologia for Snowden, but this is a more mediated piece, one weighted with self-doubt. It also might be Poitras' first feminist film, indirectly devoted as it is to exploring the abusive sexual actions of men like Assange and, to a lesser extent, encryption advocate Jacob Appelbaum. Poitras exposes Assange's casual contempt for feminists.

Oddly enough, the film that Risk most evokes is not a documentary but rather Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1979 The Third Generation, a despairing examination of hippie hopes turned into terrorist violence designed to serve the state. Applebaum and Assange now seem like the kind of fake revolutionaries Fassbinder depicts. Yet for all of that, Risk might have been better if Poitras had gone all the way and made a personal-essay of a film about her ambivalent relationship with Assange.
Laura Poitras Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Sarah Harrison Neon/Showtime Networks

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