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Film Review: Official Secrets

“Someone In This Building Has Betrayed Their Government And Their Country…”

Released during a particular time in the political stratosphere when whistleblowers are more over the news than your daily page three girl, Official Secrets is the latest from South African filmmaker, Gavin Hood, whose journey into the realm of mainstream blockbusters in the ilk of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Enders Game ended a couple of years back with the impressively taut and overwhelmingly relevant independent drama, Eye in the Sky, featuring a career best performance from Helen Mirren. Following on from the discussion-heavy notions at the heart of his previous film, Hood’s latest in the form of Official Secrets is equally politically centered, an engaging, if somewhat televisual big screen re-telling of actual events set into motion by Katharine Gun, a former British intelligence agent who during her time working for GCHQ within the era of the Bush/Blair administration at the turn of the twenty first century, leaked a top secret memo detailing America’s attempts to eavesdrop on United Nations diplomats in order to blackmail them into agreeing a resolution into the much discussed invasion of Iraq.

With Adam McKay already touching familiar political territory at the start of the year in the form of the thoroughly entertaining and cinematically manic, Vice, Hood’s movie is essentially Britain’s answer to the controversies which were happening on the other side of the pond at exactly the same time, with particular oodles of television based exposition directly mirroring similar set pieces seen in McKay’s movie. Where Official Secrets differs however is in its’ fundamentally frank storytelling, a cold-war esque spy thriller which takes more from the writings of John le Carré than say Oliver Stone, director of Snowden, as we follow Keira Knightley’s (Collette) portrayal of Gun from quiet desk merchant to hotly publicised traitor after her leak is published by Matt Smith’s (Doctor Who) wavy haired journalist and the stress of an official inquest forces her to admit to being the one responsible for such a breach of law. With the narrative engaging, the acting predominantly successful, aside from Rhys Ifans’ incredibly shouty mouthpiece of justice, and the topic more than relevant, Official Secrets is a confidently executed piece of drama which suffers massively from one major downside; it shouldn’t really be in cinemas, and with that in mind, expect Hood’s movie to be on BBC Two in the eight thirty evening slot as soon as possible.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Snowden

“Terrorism Is Just An Excuse…”

A dramatic tale of one of the most controversial figures in recent history you say? Who shall we bring on as director for that then? Oliver Stone of course, the man renowned for shall we say, colourful political views but more importantly probably the right man for the job when admiring his previous work such as the renowned Vietnam trilogy which included Platoon and Born on the Forth of July, both of which supplied Stone with Oscar wins, as well as his work on astute US political dramas such as JFK and Nixon. Although the Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour provided an in-depth examination of Edward Snowden and his role as the notorious whistle-blower, Stone’s dramatisation of similar events features Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the titular role, alongside a strange rafter of familiar faces such as Timothy Olyphant, Tom Wilkinson and Nicholas Cage who come and go in less-than supporting roles. If the man at the centre of the movie wasn’t so darn interesting, Snowden could have been in danger of being a sour, cold drama, yet with a top performance from Gordon-Levitt, Snowden is a interesting, if rather overlong, political drama.

Where the film is in its’ most interesting is scenes in which we delve into the technological aspect of Snowden’s past, whether it be hidden away in some James Bond-esque spy cave in Hawaii or hiding under a false name in the metropolitan sprawl of Geneva, yet Stone is also interested in the personal side of Snowden, giving us an in-depth examination of his relationship with partner Lindsay Mills (Divergent series’ Shailene Woodley) and the strain put on such by his classified occupation. Unfortunately for Stone, this aspect of the film is undoubtedly the weakest and therefore becomes an issue when at least two-thirds of the drama is focused upon such instead of the more interesting, political issues that Stone is renowned for taking more of an interest in. Throughout the course of the drama, the movie does seep into frank ridiculousness, particularly when Snowden is greeted to the pantomime silliness of the enlarged face of an angry Rhys Ifans, a scene in which it was hard to not laugh at the sheer OTT nature of Stone’s decision to enforce a higher level of dramatisation than the already interesting storyline needed. Snowden is overlong, silly and boring at times but with the one-two of Gordon-Levitt and Woodley attempting to do the most with what they can, the film does work on some level, just not the level the pedigree of Stone should be settling for.

Overall Score: 6/10