Official Secrets: BRWC LFF Review
Gavin Hood’s extraordinary Eye in the Sky was one of the great surprises of 2015; a remarkably tense yet thought-provoking conversation-piece that remains one of the finest portrayals of modern warfare in mainstream cinema. His latest thriller is a real-life story of a whistle-blower who risked everything; a film with an entirely different feel to his last, but one that aims to encourage every bit as much of a discussion.
Official Secrets tells the true story of Katharine Gun, an NSA worker who receives a memo requesting she research potentially compromising information regarding UN Security Council members that could be used to ‘convince’ them to vote in favour of the Iraq War. Gun risks everything to leak this to the press, in the hope she can prevent it.
The film is wonderfully riveting from start to finish, with the stakes never really lost on the viewer, and Keira Knightley producing one of her career highlights to sell the character completely. It’s one of many fine performances in a film that also features Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans and Matt Smith.
This is a story that should make people feel particularly uncomfortable; essentially a tale of how the government manipulated public opinion about something as serious as war. While this is no longer news, with the illegality of the Iraq War now indisputable, these are still incredibly relevant themes, with Western governments coming under attack more and more every day by a disillusioned society. These are questions that need to be asked and Hood isn’t afraid of doing so, and there’s no doubt at all that this story will bring about conversation every bit as much as he clearly wishes.
The messages can sometimes be a little on-the-nose, with the dialogue at times feeling more like headlines than genuine conversation. Knightley says lines such as ‘they’re all bloody liars’ and ‘just because you’re the Prime Minister, doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts’. If we’re being honest, nobody really talks like this and these moments feel a little forced, but thanks to the genuine truth and heartfelt anger at the heart of this story, along with Hood’s clear talent for suspenseful filmmaking, flaws such as these are disguised well.
While Eye in the Sky is a contained thriller, taking place during one day and focusing on a singular incident, Official Secrets is a story that focusing on the far greater scheme of things, told over the course of a year, fundamentally as a character study of what could push an ordinary member of society to do something like this. Naturally, both feel like very different films. They have entirely unique feels to them and the pacing is adjusted accordingly, and one could argue that Official Secrets feels a little more conventional that its bold predecessor, but it’s no less effective in its study of political moralities at the potential cost of human life, and Hood’s authorship is present throughout.
This is a strong, engaging thriller with significant themes, anchored by strong performances and told with great skill. It’ll frustrate people and make them think, undoubtedly Hood’s intent, and testament to the film’s success.
If you don’t know how the story ends already, don’t read up on it. Let it surprise you.
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