Friday 1 November 2019

Film Review: Official Secrets

Keira Knightley shines in Gavin Hood's taut Iraq War conspiracy thriller, Offical Secrets

Appropriately detailed without feeling burdensome or boring, Official Secrets takes a complex series of events – Iraq, Saddam Hussein, Blair and Bush, weapons of mass destruction et al – and spins it into a captivating and, most importantly, accessible slice of tense political fare.

But let's backtrack a bit to get to why this is. As someone who was barely in double digits when the Iraq War was dominating the headlines, the nuance and intricacies of that time are mostly foreign to me. Sure, I know the cliff-notes – that the US and the UK suspected Iraq might be harbouring weapons of mass destruction, and used that as justification for starting a war. But Official Secrets helps join those dots, rolling back the years and detailing how one woman – Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) – had the courage to speak out against her own government.

One might say it's the more thoughtful and character-driven cousin of Adam McKay's Vice. And while I think Vice was great and used all these neat tricks to tell a story, it still felt like McKay was giving us the abridged version of Dick Cheney's Wikipedia page at times. Official Secrets, on the other hand, approaches a similar set of themes and ideas in a more traditional fashion, by centring itself on an everyday person who faces a very real and understandable dilemma – loyalty or truth? Doing the right thing or what your country tells you is the 'right' thing?

Gun's dilemma begins when she receives a top secret memo. In her job working in intelligence, Gun must listen in to foreign broadcasts and flag anything that sounds suss with MI6. One day, her whole office receives an email from the NSA, who want their British allies to covertly monitor members of the United Nations Security Council in an attempt to gain leverage against them, which can then be used to sway a key vote that validates – legalises – Bush and Blair's offensive against Saddam.

Like I said, it's quite dense. Soon enough it boils down to one thing – did Gun do the right thing in leaking the memo to the press? Is she a traitor to her country? Or acting in the public interest? Hood's film unpacks how this huge decision has both political ramifications as well as personal ones; for Gun, her Turkish husband (Adam Bakri), her workplace and so on.

Some may feel Hood's slavish attempts to stick to the facts make the film feel slow and sterile, and these are fair criticisms. The cast are tasked with chewing on thick dialogue about binding resolutions loaded with military jargon, sometimes revisiting the same point several times to ensure the audience is still following.

What saves Hood's film from getting bogged down in all this is a slew of seriously impressive performances. Knightley is great as Gun, with the torment of her own conscience etched into her face. Gun never feels like a caricature of a heroic whistleblower; merely someone who cares that others are being hurt and killed by her government.

Matt Smith is also great as journalist Martin Bright, who broke the story after it was leaked to The Observer. The newsroom tug-of-war between Bright and his editor Roger Alton (Conleth Hill) adds another interesting angle to the film, and recalls other high pressure journalism films like Spotlight or The Post.

The Verdict: 8/10

A gripping examination of war and whistleblowing, Offical Secrets takes a complex tangle of political intrigue and boils it down into a compelling narrative about how one decision can change everything.

Official Secrets is now showing at the Mini British Film Festival, with a wider release starting on 21 November.

1 comment:

  1. I'm looking forward to this. Netflix gets it on DVD later this month so that's when I'll finally get to watch.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...