VOD film review: Chameleon
Ivan Radford | On 05, Apr 2016
Director: Ryan Mullins
Cast: Anas Aremeyaw Anas
Watch Chameleon online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
In April 2016, confidential documents from a Panamanian law firm – dubbed the Panama Papers – were released anonymously to the press. With 11 million files blowing the whistle on offshore accounts around the world, it’s hard to know which is more surprising: that it’s the largest journalistic leak in history, that it occurred in the age of clickbait media, or that Anas Aremeyaw Anas didn’t get there first.
Who is Anas? Ask President Obama, who name-checked the reporter from Ghana in a speech to the Ghanaian Parliament in 2009. Obama praised him for risking his life to unearth the truth, something that we get to witness first-hand in Ryan Mullins’ documentary. We join the Chameleon for several cases from his career as a journalist for the New Crusading Guide – cases that see him go undercover to find the facts. Sex-trafficking rings and poor hospital conditions are the kind of thing he specialises in, helping to expose a diverse array of unsavoury and illegal activity in barely 70 minutes.
He works with law enforcement to ensure justice is carried out, we’re told by the film, which celebrates his determination as well as his ruthless ethics. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” one person notes, “but Anas seems to be able to make them work side by side.”
There are questions asked about his procedures (the rules in Ghana apparently say that subterfuge is not allowed when it comes to obtaining information), as well as his collaboration with the police to collar subjects – in America, the nail ’em, shame ’em and jail ’em tactic could easily belong to a far less savoury character. But it’s hard not to side with the intrepid reporter, who is charming throughout – one brief shot of his graduation from law school feels like a crowd-pleasing riposte to anyone questioning his own legal stance.
Ryan Mullins deceptively delivers something more complex than mere hagiography, though: as an undercover reporter, Anas is able to be so effective because he hides his face in public. And so Mullins preserves his secret, presenting our hero from behind or the side, in a hood or a hat. One hilarious moment sees him disguised as a rock. The result is an inspiring and entertaining tribute to a unique journalist carrying out important work at a time when investigative reporting feels largely absent from the sensationalist headlines and blog posts filled with cat GIFs. Chameleon is a documentary that tells us all we need to know about this famous enigma – and yet smartly leaves his camouflage intact.