‘Official Secrets’ Review: A Dry Chronicle of Doing the Right Thing | Sundance 2019

     January 29, 2019


I hate writing reviews for movies like Official Secrets because these kinds of films lack a pulse. At least bad movies give you something to comment on, but Official Secrets isn’t bad. It’s fine. It’s also, instantly forgettable and completely unremarkable in every conceivable way. The moral crux of Gavin Hood’s movie—doing the right thing in the face of almost certain failure—is lost in a dry recitation of facts that provide a chronicle of the story without ever garnering any depth beyond the obvious. Official Secrets is a movie that happens, exists, and nothing more.

Katherine Gun (Keira Knightley) is a spy whose job is to monitor communications between countries for the United Kingdom’s GCHQ. In the lead up to the Iraq War, she and her coworkers receive an email from the NSA asking for blackmail on UN Security Council member countries in order to get them to vote on a resolution approving the U.S. and U.K.’s decision to go to the war. Gun decides to leak the email to the press, which is a violation of the Official Secrets Act. As the ramifications of the leak start to spiral out, Gun’s life starts to fall apart as she faces the consequences of trying to stop a war.

The biggest problem with Official Secrets is that, other than having no energy to the direction, the story lacks focus. Gun is at the center of the story, but then the plot will go off for large chunks to follow the journalists who investigated the email and then later following Katherine’s lawyers. The story always returns to her, but it departs from her for such long stretches that her importance feels diminished. What Katherine Gun did was courageous and noble, and then for some reason the movie will stop and be like, “But what about the reporters?” And their work was important, but Gun bears the moral and legal cost so she should be driving the action, or at least face an antagonistic force greater than Scotland Yard investigator who basically show up to say, “You’ll be charged at some point.”


Image via Sundance

Gun has a remarkable story to tell, but in Hood’s hands, it’s often reduced to “Hey, remember the run up to the Iraq War?” And while Gun’s anger and frustration is understandable, Hood misses the bigger picture. He only occasionally points out that the people who led their countries to war based on lies were ever held accountable, but Gun, who told the truth, had her life dragged through the mud. But with a movie this inert, the outrage barely registers. Official Secrets has all the emotional heft of reading a Wikipedia page.

The story of the lead up to the Iraq War is worth telling, but Hood either needed to broaden his scope to look at more of the run-up or deepen his look at Gun’s story. He does neither, so Official Secrets comes off as both brief and shallow, a glimpse at one of the many travesties that was the Iraq War, but nothing more than a glimpse.

Rating: C

Official Secrets does not currently have a release date.

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