Risk (2016 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byLaura Poitras
Written byLaura Poitras
Edited by
  • Erin Casper
  • Melody London
  • Laura Poitras
Music byJeremy Flower
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 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] and received generally favorable reviews.[5]

Originally titled "Asylum",[6] the film becomes a journey into Poitras's disillusionment with Assange. In the 2016 version of the film, Poitras presents a more sympathetic position towards Assange.[7][8] The 2017 re-cut version focuses more on a critique of Assange as a flawed character, including his alleged sexual assaults and his "troubling" statements about women and responses to accusations against him.[8][9][10][11][12]


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",[13][14] focusing on the risks taken by persons involved in the well-known Wikileaks website, including Assange. The documentary begins in 2010, addressing the judicial measures he came to face on the part of the Swedish 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.[15] The opening scene shows Assange (with Wikileaks staffer Sarah Harrison) calling the U.S. State Department, asking them to step-up security procedures.[16] 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",[6] the film becomes a journey into Poitras's disillusionment with Assange. In the re-cut of the film, she 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, including his alleged sexual assaults and "troubling" statements about women.[10][11][9]

In the 2016 version of the film, Poitras presents a more sympathetic position towards Assange.[7][8] The 2017 re-cut version focuses more on Assange's responses to accusations against him.[8][12]

In mid-2016, directly after the Cannes screening, Assange friend and Wikileaks supporter Jacob Appelbaum was publicly accused of abusing women while working with Wikileaks and serving as a computer security activist at Tor.[17] At one point in the film Poitras states in a voice-over her personal disappointment with Appelbaum, and her anger at Appelbaum's alleged abuse of one of her friends. In interviews, she stated that Julian Assange frantically attempted to get her to remove scenes in which he refers to the sexual assault allegations against him as a "radical feminist conspiracy" by lesbians, and that included him saying "an actual court case is going to be very hard for these women … they will be reviled for ever by a large segment of the world population. I don’t think it’s in their interest to proceed that way."[18]

Assanges lawyers contacted her directly before Cannes. Poitras said that Assange sent her an SMS message "saying the film is a threat to his freedom and he is forced to treat it accordingly.".[18] 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.[12]

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

On April 9, 2017, Showtime released a trailer for the film, executive produced by Sam Esmail and set to be released in the "summer".[9][19] In July 2017, the producers of Risk wrote an open letter saying that WikiLeaks had attempted to "censor the content of the film" and "add more scenes with attorney Amal Clooney because she makes WikiLeaks look good".[20]



Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes collected 101 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."[21] Metacritic gave the film a score of 72 out of 100 based on 27 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5]

The New Republic wrote that "the scenes Poitras captures in RISK are remarkable".[22] Some reviewers highlighted Poitras' complex relationship with WikiLeaks, Assange and Appelbaum.[18][23] The Washington Post noted that WikiLeaks lawyer Melinda Taylor criticised the film based on a description without seeing it and that her comments "seem particularly off-base".[23]

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.[citation needed]


  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 "Risk Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 7, 2023.
  6. ^ a b McNary, Dave (September 9, 2015). "'Citizenfour' Director Laura Poitras Launching Documentary Unit (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b c d 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.
  9. ^ a b c Rutenberg, Jim (April 9, 2017). "WikiLeaks Documentary Evolves With Its Subject, Year After Premiere". The New York Times. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  10. ^ a b Groll, Elias (May 5, 2017). "Julian Assange Is Not Ready for His Close Up". Foreign Policy. The Slate Group. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  11. ^ a b Lang, Brent (May 3, 2017). "'Risk' Director Laura Poitras on Her Explosive Julian Assange Documentary". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  12. ^ a b c 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.
  13. ^ Risk | Official Movie Site | IN THEATERS MAY 5, retrieved November 7, 2023
  14. ^ "Risk | SHOWTIME". SHO.com. Retrieved November 7, 2023.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Halpern, Sue (July 13, 2017). "The Nihilism of Julian Assange". The New York Review of Books. NYREV. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  17. ^ Greenberg, Andy (June 6, 2016). "Tor Developer Jacob Appelbaum Resigns Amid Sex Abuse Claims". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  18. ^ a b c 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.
  19. ^ Holloway, Daniel (April 9, 2017). "Showtime to Release WikiLeaks Documentary 'Risk' by Laura Poitras". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  20. ^ Coughlin, Brenda; Golijov, Yoni; Poitras, Laura (June 16, 2017). "Wikileaks Doc Makers Accuse Assange of Censorship". Newsweek. Retrieved November 7, 2023.
  21. ^ "Risk (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 7, 2023.
  22. ^ Livingstone, Jo (May 5, 2017). "Julian Assange's God Complex". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved November 7, 2023.
  23. ^ a b 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. Retrieved August 20, 2017.

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