Risk (2016 film)

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Risk (2016 film).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLaura Poitras
Written byLaura Poitras
Music byJeremy Flower
  • Kirsten Johnson
  • Laura Poitras
  • Katy Scoggin
Edited by
  • Erin Casper
  • Melody London
  • Laura Poitras
Distributed byNeon
Release date
  • May 19, 2016 (2016-05-19) (Cannes)
  • May 5, 2017 (2017-05-05) (United States)
Running time
91 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$219,599[2]

Risk is a 2016 American documentary film written and directed by Laura Poitras about the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It was screened in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.[3][4] On April 9, 2017, Showtime released a trailer for the film, executive produced by Sam Esmail and set to be released in the "summer".[5][6]


The film's original premise was to address the life of Julian Assange, documenting scenes showing "motives and contradictions of Assange and his inner circle",[7] focusing on the risks taken by persons involved in the well-known Wikileaks website, the most notable risk being taken by Assange himself. The documentary begins in 2010, addressing Assange's worldwide persecution by the United States, and the extreme judicial measures he came to face on the part of the Swedish judicial authorities, which sought his extradition from the U.K. in 2012. Assange alleges that any such Swedish extradition would have culminated in an eventual extradition to the United States.[8] The opening scene shows Assange (with Wikileaks staffer Sarah Harrison) calling the U.S. State Department, asking them to step-up security procedures, so as to make clear that the document-loss was not an intentional act of damage to the United States by Wikileaks/Assange.[9] This segues into a presentation of Assange's angst about the fate of Chelsea Manning and Assange's plans to avoid U.S. capture. The film then presents documentation of Assange's asylum claim, and the disguising of himself to sneak into the Embassy of Ecuador in London for refuge.

Originally titled "Asylum",[10] the film becomes a journey into the perception of Poitras, who, in the re-cut of the film, altered the film's focus on the experience of risk-taking media work (Assange's as well as her own), towards a critique of Assange as a flawed character under attack, including for his alleged mistreatment of women.[11][12][5]

In the 2016 version of the film, Poitras presents a more sympathetic position towards Assange,[13][14] drawing parallels between her own U.S. persecution for filmmaking with Assange's persecution for publication of leaked official documents.[13] The 2017 re-cut version focuses more on Assange's responses to accusations against him.[15][14]

One apparent trigger for the change of heart for Poitras appears to be her affair and subsequent disappointment with Assange friend and Wikileaks supporter Jacob Appelbaum. In mid-2016, directly after the Cannes screening, Appelbaum was publicly accused of abusing women while working with Wikileaks and serving as a computer security activist at Tor.[16] The film crosses lines at one point from being a documentary to a cinéma vérité, when Poitras admits in a voice-over her personal disappointment with Appelbaum, and her anger at Appelbaum's alleged abuse of one of her friends. In interviews, Poitras claimed that it was Julian Assange's frantic attempts to reason with her about the pre-Cannes cut, citing that his lawyers contacted her directly before the Cannes. Poitras said that Assange sent her an SMS message calling these scenes a "threat to his freedom".[17] According to Poitras, this was what led her to refocus on the same accusations, to add the Appelbaum story to the film, and to change the overall message of the film.[15]

The film touches briefly on the role played by Wikileaks in the 2016 U.S. election.



Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes collected 94 reviews with an average rating of 7/10 As of July 18, 2018, of which 82% were positive. The website's critical consensus states: "Risk poses knotty questions regarding documentary filmmaking ethics, but remains consistently compelling despite its flaws."[7] Metacritic gave the film a score of 72 out of 100 based on 25 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[18]

Some reviewers highlighted Poitras' personal entanglement in the story, for her affair with Appelbaum.[17][19]

The film drew only $145,000 in box office remittances, a sharp drop from the $3 million earned by Citizenfour, Poitras' documentary about Edward Snowden.


  1. ^ "RISK (15)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  2. ^ "Risk". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved May 18, 2017.
  3. ^ "Fortnight 2016: The 48th Directors' Fortnight Selection". Directors' Fortnight. French Directors Guild. Archived from the original on April 20, 2016. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  4. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (April 19, 2016). "Cannes: Directors' Fortnight 2016 Lineup – Laura Poitras' 'Risk', Pablo Larrain's 'Neruda', Paul Schrader's 'Dog Eat Dog'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Rutenberg, Jim (April 9, 2017). "WikiLeaks Documentary Evolves With Its Subject, Year After Premiere". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  6. ^ Holloway, Daniel (April 9, 2017). "Showtime to Release WikiLeaks Documentary 'Risk' by Laura Poitras". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Risk (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  8. ^ Burr, Ty (May 11, 2017). ""Risk"—the Julian Assange doc—is a dance with the devil". The Boston Globe. Boston Globe Media Partners. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  9. ^ Halpern, Sue (July 13, 2017). "The Nihilism of Julian Assange". The New York Review of Books. NYREV. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  10. ^ McNary, Dave (September 9, 2015). "'Citizenfour' Director Laura Poitras Launching Documentary Unit (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  11. ^ Groll, Elias (May 5, 2017). "Julian Assange Is Not Ready for His Close Up". Foreign Policy. The Slate Group. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  12. ^ Lang, Brent (May 3, 2017). "'Risk' Director Laura Poitras on Her Explosive Julian Assange Documentary". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  13. ^ a b Barnes, Henry (May 20, 2016). "Laura Poitras on her new Julian Assange film: 'Few people could stand the pressure he is under'". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  14. ^ a b Rose, Steve (June 8, 2017). "Two sides to every story: Whitney, Tupac, Assange and the trouble with making biopics". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  15. ^ a b Zeitchik, Steven (May 6, 2017). "With Laura Poitras' re-cut 'Risk,' a director controversially changes her mind about Julian Assange". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  16. ^ Greenberg, Andy (June 6, 2016). "Tor Developer Jacob Appelbaum Resigns Amid Sex Abuse Claims". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  17. ^ a b Hattenstone, Simon (June 29, 2017). "Laura Poitras on her WikiLeaks film Risk: 'I knew Julian Assange was going to be furious'". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  18. ^ "Risk Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  19. ^ Rosenberg, Alyssa (May 8, 2017). "I saw Laura Poitras's Julian Assange movie 10 days ago. I'm still struggling with it". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. Retrieved August 20, 2017.

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