Cast: Keira Knightly, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans
Director: Gavin Hood
I really have yet to see a release from the Sundance Film Festival that was truly bad. Sure some of the releases were a tad underwhelming, but so far none of them have been a must-skip showing. That level of continued success is once again apparent in Official Secrets as we get a smart, relevant, political thriller that examines the ethics and job of governments, journalists, and whistleblowers. With a plot that is complicated enough to portray the situation accurately without being too smart for the room and a riveting performance by Knightly, Official Secrets may not have wide-spread appeal, but those who like these type of movies won’t be disappointed.
The film follows Katharine Gunn (Knightly), a British spy working for the GCHQ as an intelligence translator. When she receives an email asking her to help the US and British governments influence other UN members to invade Iraq, Katharine sees this illegal request and decides she needs to go public with this information. The story then alternates between journalists trying to gather the information necessary to publish this story in the most accurate way possible while Katharine has to deal with the personal and legal fallout from her actions. Official Secrets follows a very similar format that movies like Spotlight and All the President’s Men follow, but that format exists because it works. The moral dilemma that Katherine faces between doing what is right, what she’s been ordered to do, and the impact it has on her and her family’s lives. I can’t imagine the type of pressure the real Katharine was under at this point in her life and Knightly does an excellent job of showcasing this struggle. Knightly once again shows us why she continues to get high-pressure roles and why she’s made a career out of handling complex and interesting movies. However there are a couple of moments during this movie that really prevent it from ever reaching the pantheon of greatness. The first is that the journalism section doesn’t ever give the payoff that the audience is looking for. With the amount of emphasis placed on it during the first half, you’d that section would be more well-rounded towards the end of the movie instead of the disappearing act that it does when it no longer becomes relevant. On top of that, the references of British governmental procedures can make the film difficult to follow as an American. I didn’t know what the GCHQ was before it was introduced and seeing judges wearing powdered wigs while probably authentic definitely comes across as goofy. Official Secrets will probably have a wider range of appeal with British audiences as they’ll have more insight into what went on in their home country, but other viewers may have a tough time comprehending the little intricacies that this movie presents. While it has some minor problems, Official Secrets is still emotionally relatable, politically relevant, and asks us all the important question, “would you betray your government if they were doing something illegal?”
Overall, Official Secrets won’t be the biggest box office draw of the year, but those who see it will find it to be both entertaining and informative. As more information continues to emerge about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I predict we see similar movies come out in the next few years about what actually went on behind the scenes and during the invasion. Anytime you see Knightly on your screen you know that whatever you’re watching will probably be serviceable at worst, and her presence in Official Secrets gives it more life than anticipated.
Overall Score: 7/10