You have, no doubt, seen movies like “Official Secrets” before: a ripped-from-the-headlines tale with far-reaching consequences, a wan but resolute heroine, a scruffy journalist capturing the Big Story. In this case, it’s the story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British intelligence specialist who in 2003 leaked to the press an NSA memo about a blackmail scheme targeting United Nations Security Council members, coercing them to vote in favor of the Iraq war.
Directed by Gavin Hood, the story emerges on several levels: in the London newsroom where the story unfolded; in the legal ramifications of the incident; and on the personal toll on Gun herself, a young woman surprised to find herself a whistleblower.
It’s a good story, well told, though you have to forgive Hood for indulging in a little journalistic cliché. (Rhys Ifans plays the movie version of a newspaper reporter, all suede vests and ratty dog-eared notebook and yelling of pronouncements.) Hood and his co-screenwriters (Sarah Bernstein and Gregory Bernstein) do well at conveying a mountain of facts and yet managing to keep the movie from drowning in them — even finding suspense in a very, very long “save to disk” operation, and a later controversy centering on a spellcheck. And Knightley, her usual pointy glamour disguised with a flat blanket of hair and a tired-office-worker pallor, makes an appealing heroine; a regular person caught up in something much bigger than herself, and forever changed by it.
★★★ “Official Secrets,” with Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Adam Bakri, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans. Directed by Gavin Hood, from a screenplay by Sarah Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein and Hood. 111 minutes. Rated R for language. Opens Sept. 13 at multiple theaters.