Official Secrets, co-written and directed by Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Eye in the Sky), is a fascinating new political thriller. Uneven, but made notable by a superbly talented cast and an emotionally-charged story, this is a captivating film that is sure to be a hit with mature audiences.
The movie follows a GCHQ whistleblower who leaks information about an illegal NSA operation that will push the UN Security Council towards sanctioning war against Iraq. There are plenty of great films about whistleblowers, and Official Secrets does not deviate much from the formula established by such classics as Silkwood, but this type of story still remains compelling because it is so easy to connect with people who are risking everything for the truth.
The protagonist, Katharine Gun, is developed in a way that is extremely sympathetic. Even beyond the admiration the audience will have for her as someone who is standing up for the truth and what is right, the movie builds sympathy for the character by giving her a legitimate personality. Too often, films like this get caught up in the heroism of the whistleblowers that they fail to give the characters any depth, but this movie does not fall victim to that trend.
Additionally, the film has a greater emotional impact than most similar thrillers, largely thanks to a subplot involving Gun’s husband, an immigrant who is facing deportation whose situation is worsened by his wife’s actions. This subplot may not be explored in the deepest or fullest way possible, but is effective in making the story feel both urgent at that time and more relevant to the modern day.
Keira Knightley does a wonderful job of portraying Gun, giving a performance that is subtle and has plenty of nuance. Granted, the range she is asked to show isn’t particularly complex, but Knightley knocks it out of the park with what she does have to do. The supporting cast includes Matt Smith and Ralph Fiennes, among others, all of whom are very good but underused.
The major shortcoming of this movie is that it is a tad too long, partially due to unnecessary subplots. Although it is interesting, the story of the journalists debating on whether or not to publish Gun’s story isn’t entirely relevant to the main arc of the film, and as such, could have been cut out and allowed the movie to explore the core story with more depth.
On a technical level, the film is competent and effective, if not revolutionary. Missing from this movie is the nail-biting tension built by Hood in his last film, Eye in the Sky, but the story is compelling enough to make up for this. Nevertheless, Hood’s great eye is still evident, as the compositions and production design do a great job of drawing you into the world of early-2000’s British intelligence.
Official Secrets may stick to the book a bit too much and could have used some streamlining, but it is nonetheless a mostly effective portrait of a whistleblower. This movie is worth seeing for the performances alone, but you will be entertained as well.
Official Secrets opens in theaters on August 30.