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“Official Secrets” Finds Keira Knightley Trying To Prevent A War

Filmmaker Gavin Hood is at his best when he gets political. The less said about his superhero outing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better, while Ender’s Game underwhelmed. However, after his breakthrough Tsotsi, efforts like Rendition, though especially Eye in the Sky and now Official Secrets, show how engaged he is when he’s passionate about a cause. Here, telling the true story of a British whistleblower in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq War, he’s found a terrific vehicle for his talents. The film is angry, urgent, and effortlessly well made. Hitting theaters this week, it’s a mature and serious work that’s well worth your time.

The movie is a political thriller, based on the true story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a member of British Intelligence who leaked classified documents in an attempt to stop the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A longtime effective and loyal intelligence office, Katharine is troubled when she gets an email from the NSA instructing her team to essentially blackmail members of the United Nations. Horrified at the joint US-UK spying operation against members of the UN Security Council, which is wholly illegal, she prints out the instructions and hands it to an anti-war friend. The memo eventually makes its way to journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith) of The Observer, who writes an article that rocks the world. Soon, however, an attempt to discredit the memo is put forth, while a hunt for the whistleblower begins. The war gets underway and Katharine turns herself in, ultimately being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act. Thus begins a legal battle between the British government and Katharine, with her lawyer Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) attempting to keep her out of prison. Hood directs and co-writes here with Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein. Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian composed the score, while cinematography is by Florian Hoffmeister. Supporting players include Adam Bakri, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Hattie Morahan, Indira Varma, and more.

Keira Knightley is at her best here, mixing a dry earnestness with a vivid determination not to see her country descend into war. Watching her initial passion for avoiding war turn into a willingness to take on her whole country is often captivating to witness. At times, the film itself doesn’t match her character’s drive, though Knightley effectively passes that along. When Hood takes the focus off of her, the pacing is screwed up a bit, though the newspaper scenes with Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, and Matt Smith work on their own. The legal aspect with Ralph Fiennes, however, is oddly rushed through, as if occurring after the fact. It’s the flick’s main misstep.

Official Secrets marks a mix of Gavin Hood’s issues in Eye in the Sky, as well as work like All the President’s Men and Spotlight. As the characters work to unravel the personal, political, and professional implications of the leak, you always have a sense of the stakes at play. It can seem a bit dry to those who need action and explosions, since this isn’t that sort of a movie. Instead, it’s the type of quiet cinema that rewards concentration. If you’re willing to give yourself over the film, it ends up being a rather satisfying experience. You just have to be okay with taking this particular ride.

This weekend, audiences starved for adult/issue driven fare can give Official Secrets a look. Beyond scratching that particular cinematic itch, it also represents some top notch work from Keira Knightley as well. There’s lots to dig into here, and if it never quite livens up enough to veer towards Academy Award level fare, it’s still a compelling watch. Give it a look and you’ll see why. Especially if you’re a Knightley fan, you can’t go wrong with this one…

Be sure to check out Official Secrets, in theaters tomorrow!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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