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With: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Indira Varma, MyAnna Buring, Rhys Ifans, Jack Farthing, Katherine Kelly, Tamsin Greig, Conleth Hill, Hattie Morahan
Written by: Gregory Bernstein, Sara Bernstein, Gavin Hood, based on a book by Marcia Mitchell, Thomas Mitchell
Directed by: Gavin Hood
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 112
Date: 08/29/2019

Official Secrets (2019)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Leak Attacks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Wordy and disjointed and not exactly dynamic or visual, this based-on-true-events political drama nonetheless gets by on sheer righteous anger, painful relevance, and a few stand-up-and-cheer moments.

In Official Secrets, Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) works as a British intelligence specialist. In 2003, she receives a memo detailing how the United States is asking Britain to help collect information about five nations in the UN, in order to blackmail them into voting in favor the U.S. invasion of Iraq. After much deliberation, Katharine decides to leak the memo to the press. Under the "official secrets" act, everyone in her office begins undergoing ruthless interrogations in order to find the whistleblower, and Katharine confesses.

Meanwhile, her troubles are only beginning, as the London Observer decides to publish the memo, and her husband, Yasar (Adam Bakri), a refugee from Turkey, finds himself in danger of being deported. With everything to lose, Katharine places her trust in the hands of brilliant lawyer Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) and awaits her trial.

Official Secrets gets a large portion of its strength from Knightley, whose Katharine Gun is seen early on during her free time shouting at Tony Blair on TV. She must sell a character that is beholden to her better instincts, and suffers to the point that she would put herself and her husband in danger to set things right, and she does this admirably.

Directed by Gavin Hood (who doesn't quite reach the highs of his Eye in the Sky), the movie does spend long chunks away from her. But fortunately, it sometimes turns into a crackling newspaper movie, with Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, and Matt Smith filling out the requisite colorful journalist roles.

But while it struggles to make memos and meetings and editing decisions into cinema, and struggles equally with half-baked, ill-placed attempts at suspense, Official Secrets regularly rediscovers threads of tension and keeps things moving, and Fiennes's late-entry performance helps carry the story ably toward the finale.

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