Official Secrets (Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans) – Keira Knightley isn’t just the beautiful angel from Love Actually anymore. She proved that in Atonement and The Imitation Game and reinforced it here in Official Secrets. She carries a film that feels more political than dramatic.
Set in the run-up to the Iraq War following 9/11, Official Secrets follows Katherine Gun, a translator/analyst for the British equivalent of the NSA. In her job, she reviews documents and listens to intercepted conversations from other governments, individuals and bad guys. She then reports what she reads and hears.
One day, she and her colleagues receive a memo indicating that the U.K. and the U.S. have agreed to use surreptitious means and disinformation to convince countries on the U.N. Security Council to support a resolution to endorse a war with Iraq. Gun, who had been following the fervor for war against Saddam Hussein, clearly believed that the rhetoric used by Tony Blair and George W. Bush was not supported by intelligence facts that she knew.
Faced with knowledge that a covert effort was underway to secure a UN resolution that would provide “cover” for Bush and Blair, she decided to turn over the memo to a friend who was part of the British anti-war effort even though she knew it violated the Official Secrets Act. Clearly naïve, she assumed that the memo could be used to kick-start an investigation by the British news media, which it did. When journalist Martin Bright at The Observer printed the memo verbatim, however, all hell broke loose within her agency as the search for the leaker began. She admitted it was her … and her life changed forever.
Knightley plays Gun as a super-serious, principled zealot who felt compelled to break the law in the hopes she could save lives by trying to stop a war. But the film comes off as politically motivated, not nuanced. We all know now that the rationale for war – that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and connections to Al Qaida – was either a product of bad intelligence or deliberate deception. The film clearly endorses the latter, which reduces its impact.
Directed by Gavin Hood, who also helmed Eye in the Sky, another political film about the use of satellites and drones in war, Official Secrets is an almost good thriller. It feels like he couldn’t decide if he wanted this to be a journalism film like All the President’s Men or a courtroom drama like Denial about a professor who faces a court battle against a Holocaust denier.
Knightley makes Official Secrets watchable but, because Gun’s actions did nothing to stop the war, less than compelling.