Nantucket Film Festival: Day Five Closes With ‘Official Secrets’ and ‘Westfalia,’

Keira Knightley stars in the true life political drama, "Official Secrets"

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Nantucket Film Festival: Day five would bring an end to the Nantucket Film Festival for our Award Circuit’s coverage. It was quite an experience, and all those responsible for hosting such an event are to be commended. But more of this in another post. The festival still had a screening or two for me to take in before wrapping up and heading home.

The Spotlight Selection on Sunday morning was Gavin Hood‘s “Official Secrets,” based on the true story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley). Gun worked for the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), a British surveillance agency meant to monitor against potential terrorist attacks. When an internal email with alarming directives fell into her lap, Gun turned whistle-blower, leaking highly classified information in the events leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Her incrimination exposed a memo that proved the US and UK were illegally attempting to wire-tap select members of the UN Security Council from the countries of Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea. The Bush Administration’s intent was to blackmail these statesmen into voting for the war, despite the lack of evidence that Iraq did indeed have weapons of mass destruction. Gun’s decision to leak the memo was a direct violation of the Official Secrets Act, and was considered a form of treason.

“Official Secrets” delivers a fairly straightforward take on a courageous act by informant Katharine Gun, and the investigative journalists and legal team that pushed her story forward. Knightley is very strong in the lead role, playing the intelligent and resilient woman who is trying to do right by her country, and the world. The supporting cast is categorically well placed, with familiar faces that include Matthew Goode, Matt Smith, and Rhys Ifans as reporters working for the The Observer, a newspaper that has a reputation for putting its political allies ahead of its investigative journalism. The legal team is led by Academy Award-nominee Ralph Fiennes, while “Game of Thrones” actors Indira Varma and Conleth Hill round out the cast admirably.

The film’s best moments are with the journalists at The Observer. Between Hood’s approach with the investigation, and screenwriters Gregory and Sara Bernstein‘s fiercely written shouting matches, I would have enjoyed sitting through an entire movie focused around their end of the story.

Despite Knightley’s best efforts to hold the film together, it dips when we are not in the newsroom. While the Bernsteins handle their script adeptly, it is the real life story that feels a bit anticlimactic. Gun is a hero, make no mistake about it, and her story is an important one. The courage she displayed in the face of certain scrutiny is to be admired. Knightley adroitly manifests the strength Gun must have had to be able to put the lives of the British people over her own government, her husband, and her own life. Despite all of her heroism, however, she is unable to stop the inevitable war machine in the end. On top of this, the final courtroom scene plays out insignificantly and inconsequentially. While we can respect the team behind “Official Secrets” for preventing an improvised Hollywood ending, it doesn’t erase the fact that what occurs is relatively mundane. That’s the crux of the story, fortunately or unfortunately as it may be.

“Official Secrets” is distributed by IFC Films and is set for a August 30 release.

GRADE: (½)

In Haley Finnegan’s short film, “Westfalia,” Brody (Brian Flynn) and Emelia (Finnegan) are obsessed with being “insta-famous.” Their whole relationship revolves around capturing the perfect images to sell their companionship to the world, pausing their lives to set up the scene in order to capture the ideal moment. They even have their own, unimaginative hashtag for the road trip they are taking together in their 1984 Westfalia Vanagon. It is clear that while they desire the fame, they don’t necessary enjoy the work that goes in to trying to achieve such a destination.

There is nothing genuine about these two. Their lives are mundane and fabricated, and pale in comparison to their insta-rivals, Laura and Nick (played by real-life Instagram stars (Laura Lawson Visconti and Nick Visconti), whose likes and followers always seem to eclipse Brody and Emelia’s. Things take a twist for Brody and Emelia when they see that their rivals are staying not too far off from where they are camping. The pitiful pair devise a plan that could change the outlook of their social media presence forever.

“Westfalia” is an excellent timepiece for this generation of self-obsessed social media hounds. The brains behind the operation is Haley Finnegan, who wrote, directed, and starred in the film. She has created a clever and imaginative film, exploring what might be going on between the clicks of the cameras. The film has a wonderful ending that will leave you somewhere between rolling your eyes in antipathy and smiling remorsefully to yourself knowing that most of us have have had a phony social media moment ourselves.

“Westfalia” is seeking distribution and is set for a August 30 release.

GRADE: ()

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