The past few years have been good to us in terms of ‘journo-political’ thrillers – a term I just made up, by the way – of films based around investigative journalists and the real-life fallout from their groundbreaking publications.
For a prime example, cast your mind back to 2015’s excellent Spotlight, which I consider the example of the, admittedly niche, genre. That was a film surrounding the breaking of previously confidential information, and the legal and social consequences of these reports; in Spotlight’s case, it was child abuse in the Catholic Church, in this case, it’s the highly divisive and volatile subject of the Iraq War.
No matter what your view on that conflict, the aftermath has exposed it to have been an illegal operation, and to approach it from the angle of a whistleblower and the journalist who broke evidence of deception is very brave, not to mention interesting.
In 2003 Britain, a GCHQ worker – Katharine Gun – comes across a memo from the America security services, detailing their plans to fix an upcoming UN vote on the Iraq War. After leaking the confidential document to the press, Katharine has to decide whether to take responsibility and face prison.
If you see the film, you’ll know that the above synopsis is somewhat threadbare and not entirely representative of the film as a whole. It’s a bit of a tangled web, that the film unravels at a leisurely pace, dialling up the tension and pressure on its characters.
Its pace and length is probably the films main downfall; it is engaging and intriguing story, one with plenty of twists and turns in the later stages, it struggles to keep its gripping nature in the middle, it finds itself settling into a plodding rhythm, one it thankfully shakes off by the third act.
Other than that, the film is fairly strong across the board, the performances are very good, lead by a sterling showing from Keira Knightley, who plays off the character being stuck in a fairly perilous situation extremely well, I also enjoyed the way the character was not played up or exaggerated; she was just someone caught in the middle of something far bigger than herself, with her values challenged by the job she had.
She’s helped by a very talented and varied supporting cast, Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes and Adam Bakri stand out amongst the very solid cast, adding a touch of charisma, experience and diversity, respectively to and already interesting roster of rotating characters.
As a story it all holds together well, the loose ends are competently established, then resolved, its use of differing plot elements enchanted the plot, rather than over-burden it, and it has a satisfying conclusion.
All this being said however, I do feel like it could have been more. It feels at its most alive when it’s wearing its heart of its sleeve and making a point about the perils of war, and the corruption that lead up to it. It’s definitely true that the script is angled in such a way to make Katharine’s actions look heroic, but it never fully commits to making a statement, and by the end of the film when it tries to consolidate its viewpoint again, it seems insincere.
Again, I must stress that I did like this film, I think it was well acted, and tactfully shot, but it felt like it was missing that killer edge that could have made it special, and that’s a real shame. It eventually comes back around to solidly delivering a message, but it feels like it’s too little, too late; and I fear it may be unmemorable because of that.