After briefly derailing his career with the misguided X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the box office misfire Ender’s Game, director Gavin Hood has reevaluated his status behind the camera, and following on from the politically-minded thriller Eye in the Sky he’s maintained that same temperament for Official Secrets.
Whilst making the film a Keira Knightley feature would have been simple given its premise (and she’s absolutely divine in the lead), Hood and his co-writers, Gregory and Sara Bernstein (the duo’s main penning being the little seen – for good reason – 1997 comedy Trial and Error), have smartly made this something of an ensemble piece, distributing equal weight to Knightley’s whistleblower Katharine Gun, the media that published her damning memo, and the legal team hired when she was threatened with imprisonment.
The aforementioned damning memo revolves around an illegal spying operation by the United States, who were looking to obtain information which could be used to blackmail United Nations diplomats into voting for war in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Gun, a British intelligence agency employee hired to act as a translator, leaked the memo in the hopes of exposing the higher-ups – the film making it a point that beyond wanting to do the right thing Gun had no ulterior motive to her risky manoeuvre.
Whilst it would’ve been a welcome addition to detail Gun’s mental state as there’s never any specific motivation as to why she felt so compelled to leak this particular memo, Knightley’s performance, as well as the empathy we conjure for her, never suffer as a result. This is one of the finest turns she has delivered as of late, and though she has arguably the less “showy” role, the film is all the more human because of her natural, organic state.
As much as this is Gun’s story, at times Official Secrets shifts its focus throughout to the reporters eager to publish the memo for their respective outlets, namely Matt Smith as Martin Bright, a writer for The Reporter who went against the advice of his editorial staff to publish Gun’s findings. Matthew Goode and Rhys Ifans similarly deliver enjoyable performances as fellow reporters equally invested in breaking the scandal, the duo often offering a sense of levity among the script’s predominantly heavy material.
The film’s final act, where Gun appears in a court of law (Ralph Fiennes, in a beautifully understated turn, plays her empathetic attorney), feels slightly removed from the sequences that preceded it, however that’s certainly not a criticism towards the project as a whole as the courtroom set pieces provide some of the film’s most investing moments, but you can’t help but feel that a larger film dedicated to Gun and her legal team could’ve seriously elevated an already fine-tuned script to something uniformly stellar.
Overall, whether you’re a politically-minded person or not, Official Secrets should reel you in with its true-to-life dramatics. Similar to the recently released The Report, another feature detailing a spot in US war-related history the authorities wish they could expunge, Hood’s absorbing film continues to prove that truth constantly remains stranger and more incredible than anything fiction could create.