OFFICIAL SECRETS – Review by Martha K Baker

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With a mostly crackerjack cast and an important recent history story to tell, Official Secrets should be better. Seeing it matters, for it speaks about lies, governments, wars based on lies, and a whistleblower with integrity. It must be watched with one eye on its significance, another on its weakness.

In 2004, Katherine Gun was called before a court in England. The case against her accuses her of treason, of revealing a secret. As a translator — really, a kind of spy — for British intelligence, Gun reads a memo directed to NSA. It bares naked a US and UK plan to blackmail members of the UN security council in order to demand a vote to declare a war against Iraq in 2003.

Martin Bright, a journalist with the Observer published the leaked memo — at great risk to himself. But Katherine Gun risked more by leaking the memo. When asked by a lawyer how she could compromise her government, she answers firmly that the government was not her employer, that she works for the British people so her government can protect, not lie, to the British people.

The sterling cast includes Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes as a lawyer, Matt Smith as Bright, Rhys Ifans, who chews the scenery as an angry journalist; and Tamsin Greig. Watch Greig portray a former deputy legal advisor: in one cameo in 7 minutes, she outacts the star of the film, Keira Knightly, in over 115 minutes. As Gun, Knightly fails to connect with the role or the audience.

Writers Gregory and Sara Bernstein with Gavin Hood, the director, had the difficult task of writing the screenplay, based on the book The Spy Who Tried To Stop a War. Exposition cannot help but play a big part in the canned dialogue. Hood does not direct his cameras with finesse, but focuses on only what he wants an audience to see.

Official Secrets teaches more than it entertains; sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with that especially if it reveals secrets. In its weakest moments, Official Secrets gives the filmgoer fuel to criticize with authority.

I’m Martha K. Baker. From the Grand Center Arts District, this is 88.1, KDHX, St. Louis.

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Martha K. Baker

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.