Condon’s fiction version of the Assange story is a game attempt to turn computer-based subversives into an enthralling narrative, using zippy visuals to push the narrative along and present both issues and relationships: above all between Assange (Cumberbatch) and his long-time collaborator Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Brühl), whose cooperation lasted from 2007 to 2010, when Assange suspended Domscheit-Berg from Wikileaks after a disagreement on the ethics of revealing sources.
Based on the word of people that he disappointed (Domscheit-Berg and Guardian journalists with whom Wikileaks collaborated on the release of classified US material), ambivalence was bound to be part of this picture. Cumberbatch is preternaturally convincing as Assange: a man whose obsession with transparency makes him an emotional enigma. but by presenting both the perspective of über-Assange and the circumspect Domscheit-Berg (backed by portentous glances to indicate what’s at stake), Condon stretches the boundaries of viewer empathy beyond the advisable.
Of course, Assange’s private life is still very much pending official scrutiny. What price transparency now?
The Fifth Estate | Directed by Bill Condon (USA, Belgium 2013) with Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Carice Van Houten. Starts October 31
Originally published in issue #121, November 2013.