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Review: 'War on Whistleblowers' fails to fully sound alarm

Robert Greenwald, who took on the Iraq war and Rupert Murdoch in previous documentaries, delivers a largely ineffective critique.

April 25, 2013|By Gary Goldstein
  • A scene from "War on Whistleblowers."
A scene from "War on Whistleblowers." (Handout )

Since 2002, filmmaker-activist Robert Greenwald has made a string of vital feature documentaries, including the trenchant exposés "Uncovered: The War on Iraq" and "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism." His latest, the brief "War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State," although vigorously assembled, proves to have less impact.

Here, producer-director Greenwald takes on a big topic, zips through some history (Galileo and Copernicus were early whistle-blowers, Frank Serpico and Karen Silkwood more modern examples), then zooms in on several intrepid whistle-blowers from the 2000s. They include U.S. Marine Corps advisor Franz Gayl, who bucked the Pentagon over IED-vulnerable Humvees used in Iraq, and former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake and ex-Department of Justice lawyer Thomas Tamm, who spoke out against warrantless wiretaps employed in counterterrorism efforts under the George W. Bush administration. (Fear not, Greenwald also questions President Obama's transparency in national security matters.)

Greenwald holds interest by using strong interviews with Gayl, Drake and Tamm (all took personal and professional hits for their actions) plus Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, along with chats with an impressive array of journalists and government oversight experts, and a kinetic mix of archival news footage and iconic American imagery. But at under an hour, the film, which also touches on White House-driven leaks for political gain, can't help but feel a bit incomplete.

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"War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State." No MPAA rating. Running time: 53 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

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