A couple of years ago, filmmaker Alex Gibney made the documentary "The Last Gladiators" about hockey enforcers.
Now he's tackled the most modern of gladiators, the ones who sit at computers, copy vast amounts of secret military and diplomatic documents and spirit them to the public. They, too, deliver blows and end up bruised, battered or even imprisoned.
3.5 stars = Very Good
R for some disturbing violent images, language and sexual material.
"We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" is an eye-opening look at the faces behind the organization, namely Julian Assange, who eventually disappointed and disillusioned some, and Pfc. Bradley Manning. He is the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst being court-martialed for his role in releasing hundreds of thousands of documents.
No mention is made of Edward J. Snowden, who delivered highly classified material to The Guardian and Washington Post. He surfaced too recently to be part of this project (as did revelations about domestic calling records), but he's certainly part of the growing traitor vs. patriot debate.
Mr. Gibney is no stranger to complex, potentially incendiary subjects, from Enron and Eliot Spitzer to sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. He won an Oscar for 2007's "Taxi to the Dark Side," which examined how interrogation techniques that ranged from cruel to criminal migrated from Afghanistan to Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
Now he tackles what he thought was a David vs. Goliath story but turned out to have broader implications as it examined life in the post-9/11 world where rules and self-styled whistle-blowers have changed.
Mr. Gibney traces the rise of WikiLeaks founder Mr. Assange -- the tall, skinny, white-haired Aussie-born hacker turned free speech advocate -- and Pfc. Manning, the more interesting of the two.
An Oklahoma native who joined the Army to get money for college, he struggled with gender identity, concealed his document dump with a disc labeled "Lady Gaga" and called himself a "broken soul" in confessional exchanges with hacker Adrian Lamo who eventually revealed his identity.
You don't hear from anyone in the Oklahoman's immediate family, but you meet a supervisor, a friend and a fellow soldier.
More important, though, you see on screen his words as if he's typing them from Iraq. It's an effective, intimate technique that allows us to feel as if we're part of the computer conversation, particularly because Pfc. Manning was unavailable for interviews, as was Mr. Assange.
One was under military arrest, the other holed up in the Embassy of Ecuador in London and possibly a "noble liar." That forced the filmmakers to widen their net as they turned to others, including journalists and onetime government officials, for observations and opinions.
"We Steal Secrets" is a snapshot of a story in progress. Pfc. Manning's court-martial is underway, and just this week, the Associated Press and other news outlets reported Britain and Ecuador failed to break the deadlock over the unresolved asylum case of Mr. Assange.
He took refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning for alleged sexual misconduct. Were the charges trumped up to try to silence him, or is he a selfish jerk when it comes to women, condoms and STD tests?
At a time when information comes at us like fragments of mosaic tile, "We Steal Secrets" steps back and looks at the bigger, thornier picture, even as it keeps changing before our eyes.
Opens Friday at the Harris Theater, Downtown. A panel discussion about government, information, the Internet and the press will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, before the 8 p.m. movie. Sharon Walsh, editor of PublicSource, will moderate.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: email@example.com or 412-263-1632.