8 August 2019 | paul-allaer
Flawed documentary about compelling subject matter
"XY Chelsea" (2019 release from the UK; 90 min.) is a documentary about Chelsea Manning, the gender-transitioned erstwhile Bradley Manning, who in 2010 leaked 750,000 secret and sensitive documents and videos about the war in Iraq, where Manning was an intelligence analyst. As the movie opens, it is "January 17, 2017" and Manning's lawyer get a call (and we later see Pres. Obama explaining) that Manning's prison sentence is commuted (but not pardoned). The film crew follows Manning around upon the release from prison, and then the movie goes back in time for a look at Manning's upbringing and eventual joining the Army... At this point we're 15 min. into the movie.
Couple of comments: it is not always easy to distinguish the intrinsic value and merit of a film as opposed to the subject matter of the film. Even though in retrospect the title of this documentary should've been a dead giveaway, what I had expected was an objective (BBC-like) review and analysis of the leaks and the subsequent trial. And certainly there is some of that, but not nearly enough in my opinion. Instead, for the movie makers the leaks and the trial seem to be mere peripheral issues and instead they are focusing on the gender-transitioning of Manning and what life is like for Manning after being released from jail. This eventually includes media appearances, and, oh, magazine photo shoots, many, many photo shoots. I suppose that there is nothing wrong with showing the human side of Manning, but I had hoped for a far more objective portrait about what really happened with the leaks and at the subsequent trial.
"XY Chelsea" recently premiered on Showtime and I caught it on Showtime On Demand the other evening. I must admit that about halfway through I came close to turning this off, but then the second half got better and I did watch it until the very end. Still, I think this documentary is a missed opportunity, and given the complex if not compelling subject matter, it's probably only a matter of time that someone else will do a documentary about Manning. Of course I encourage you to check out "XY Manning" and draw your own conclusion.