Risk (2017 cut) Screen 77 of 14 reviews

Risk (2017 cut)

2017

Risk (2017 cut) Poster
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Perhaps without meaning to, Laura Poitras jumps the track in Risk, becoming more than just an ace documentarian. Here, she is incontestably an artist, capable of recognizing when she has gotten in over her head politically and personally and having the self-awareness to take critical stock of the situation.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • [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.

  • 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.

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