“Official Secrets”–Blowing in the Wind

Based upon the  true story of British Intelligence whistle-blower Katharine Gun (played by Keira Knightley) immediately before the planned 2003 Iraq invasion, Official Secrets exposes a joint US-UK illegal extortion plan [under President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair).  Both governments colluded against members of the UN Security Council in order to obtain their votes for invasion.  Gun, a minor functionary and translator of highly confidential documents, leaks a top secret NSA memo  that  proposes blackmailing smaller, less powerful Security Council members. Official Secrets is a case study of the heroic whistle-blower who is willing to stand up for her values, regardless of the consequences. In the case of Katherine Gun, she naively did not expect the closing of ranks and the harm to her personal life. Nevertheless she was a heroine who deserves to be recognized for her truth-telling, at great emotional and physical cost.

Also at great personal and professional risk, journalist Martin Bright (Ralph Fiennes) publishes the leaked document in The Observer. The story made headlines around the world. Members of the Security Council were outraged and any chance of a UN resolution in favor of war collapsed. But within days, Bush declared he no longer needed UN backing.  The US  invaded anyway, with Colin Powell presenting his views supporting the invasion and weapons of mass destruction.  

The Official Secrets Act is then invoked, with treason and sedition charges brought against both Katherine Gun and Martin Bright. Their legal battles expose the highest levels of government in both London and Washington.  Katherine is put on trial in 2003.

The soul of the film is the ethical question of whether state employees act for the people or for the government, echoing Watergate.   At its core, Official Secrets is a portrait of  a courageous individual who believes an illegal war is about to be declared.  Her moral compass does not allow her to remain silent.  With impeccable timing, Official Secrets demonstrates how coverups can impact the course of history.

Note: When Secretary of State Colin Powell learned that the information he was given for his presentation to the United Nations was false, he resigned. 

Availability: Netflix DVD

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” –Hungary for Humor

 

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-PosterThis British-German co-production directed by Wes Anderson is  the adventure of Gustave, (a comedic turn for Ralph Fiennes) a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa (the astonishing 17-year old Tony Revolori) , the “lobby boy” who becomes his confident and essential companion.  Together they are determined to prove Gustave’s innocence after being framed for both theft and murder. The story centers on  the theft of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for a family fortune — all against the back-drop of a  dramatically changing Europe.

The narrative takes place in three time periods (each indicated by a different cinematic technique):  1) the present in which a teenage girl stands before a stature of “The Author” and begins learning about his story of the Grand Budapest Hotel; 2) 1968, a flashback to the elderly owner Zero Moustafa and “The Author” (Jude Law):  Zero’s remembrance of his youth under the tutelage of Gustave, concierge extraordinaire.   3)  pre- Second World War, circa 1932-33 when Zero is a young “lobby boy” and Gustave is the darling of the wealthy doyennes who patronize the hotel.  One especially wealthy eccentric upon whom he dotes, Madame D  (Tilda Swinton), dies mysteriously and bequeaths everything to Gustave.  Then the wild journey and story really take off  with Gustave and Zero partners in crime.

I am a huge fan of Wes Anderson (ever since “Bottle Rocket”). His films have always been quirky, idiosyncratic and goofy originals. All of Anderson’s trademarks combine to produce the ultimate wackiness in his humor. The absurdity that defines his style makes “The Grand Budapest Hotel” crazy and hilarious!