REVIEW: ‘Official Secrets’ endures issues to deliver compelling drama

With the closure of movie theaters because of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m taking a look back at more movies from 2019.

The lead up to the chaotic foreign policy situation that is the Iraq War involved the United States government heavily pressuring the United Nations Security Council.

One of the ways it planned to do so was to gather compromising details about other U.N. diplomats, and potentially use blackmail, to swing any Iraq decision. This was eventually discovered by an employee at the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters.

Keria Knightley portrays that employee, named Katherine Gun, in “Official Secrets. After her discovery, the movie documents how Gun leaked the details of the United States’ operation to the press and the actions by the British government against her that followed.

As a whole, “Official Secrets” is a solid political drama, showcasing the efforts of a person determined to expose a government plot for the good of the public. It’s no doubt an inspiring story and Gun is made to be a character an audience can really root for.

However, the picture is unfortunately dragged down a bit by a few issues. One noticeable problem is the movie’s pacing.

The film’s climax is, sadly, somewhat anti-climactic. Of course this is based on a true story so the end result of the situation is what it is, but how the movie portrayed the lead up probably could have been altered to be more enjoyable with a stronger cinematic finale.

An example of this is how late the film introduces Gun’s legal team that will be handling her defense, and her overall trial strategy. This is an area where a framing device that introduces these characters and the situation at the start could’ve been beneficial.

Courtesy Clear Pictures Entertainment, Entertainment One and IFC Films.

Another issue with the flick is how it somewhat splits the focus of the story by also having a section dedicated to following staff at The Observer newspaper. While they did leak the story and some of the staff’s work deserved to be documented here, the extent to which this is featured becomes too detached from the main story about Gun.

At times it seems like the film wants to be an investigative journalism movie, and at others a feature about a loan citizen doing what’s right, and it’s just a bit too much to juggle.

With all that said, “Official Secrets” still really gets the dramatic moments right. Gun’s dedication to leaking the document, her legal team determining how to defend her on the basis of how the war turned out, and the overall tension that comes from standing up against two of the most powerful nations on the planet makes for an engaging experience.

The script, co-written by director Gavin Hood and the team of Sara and Gregory Bernstein, is sharp and politically charged. It’s a scathing take on the Iraq War and wonderfully supports those who are dedicated to doing what’s right.

“Official Secrets” is also well benefited by a talented cast here. Keira Knightley is superb as a woman who refuses to back down even in the face of her difficult situation. She’s also great in that she portrays the more down-to-Earth parts of her character well, too. This isn’t a performance where she remains stoic the whole time, there’s a convincing human component here, too.

The cast is well rounded by Emmy nominees Matt Smith and Matthew Goode, British Academy nominee Rhys Ifans and Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes.

While “Secrets” has its flaws, it’s still an effective drama with an intelligent script, a rich subject and a strong cast. 3.75 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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