Just in case the opening moments of Gavin Hood’s Official Secrets don’t immediately telegraph the relevance of its domesticated spy-fi drama, he inserts a well-timed “based on actual events” card directly after Keira Knightley shouts at Tony Blair on her TV screen. She’s angry that a nation’s leader could lie so blatantly, making up facts to fit a narrative into their own aims. While a significant portion of this film’s audience may in fact need that level of hand holding, it’s the key component that holds this picture back.

Knightley plays Katharine Gun, a British intelligence employee who leaked a top secret memo in 2003 showing that the United States was looking to blackmail key United Nations members to strong arm them into supporting the war in Iraq. She plays Gun with unshakable conviction and a fortitude bordering on mania, a dedication to doing the right thing at the expense of herself, her refugee husband and any chance the two of them can continue living a comfortable life in England. The film paints her as a hero for this, obviously, but it also doesn’t shy away from interrogating the underlying privilege of her position.

Perhaps if Hood focused this story solely around the intimate struggles of Gun’s home life during the ensuing trial, Official Secrets would be a shorter, more tense character portrait that nonetheless peered into an overlooked period in recent history. The blatant lesson to be learned about holding one’s government accountable and being loyal to the citizenry and not the ruling class would still be there, but it would be hanging up in the background, rather than a large font placard slung around the necks of every other supporting character this film throws in its audience’s collective faces.

Because this isn’t just Gun’s story. Hood has to trot out every other element from every other film since the early aughts about geopolitics. That means reheated All The President’s Men leftovers with Matt Smith and Rhys Ifans as journalists following the case meant to confront modern media’s complicity in the lurching, cancerous growth of fascism. Both men are stellar screen presences who command their scenes and lure the viewer in, despite a lacking script and the nagging sense that we should be back in Gun’s living room, watching her shoulder the weight of these difficult decisions.

For a film that rakes bureaucrats over the coals anytime they snipe at Gun for taking the nation’s bigger picture in her own pitiable hands, it relishes trying to give her story unnecessary scope by cutting away to the outside forces at the periphery of her tale. The only times these diversions feel particularly substantive or entertaining are when the legal procedural takes over, and Ralph Fiennes steals every scene as Gun’s lawyer. Those sequences at least do a fine job placing this moment into context without hammering home empty platitudes.

But somewhere out there, there’s a leaner and meaner version of this story anchored entirely by Knightley’s impressive performance and her chemistry with Adam Bakri as her husband Yasar. That would be a film that wouldn’t need to insult its viewer’s intelligence trying to be Big and Important when it could settle for actually being captivating.

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