"I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film."
That's what Julian Assange had to say about The Fifth Estate way back in January, when Benedict Cumberbatch contacted him and asked to meet with Assange before playing him in the film about the controversial Wikileaks founder. Assange, who has been vocally opposed to the project since the very beginning, had no problem dismissing the film sight unseen. And when The Fifth Estate premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September, critics agreed with him. Cumberbatch is a good person who everyone still likes. But The Fifth Estate, according to many who have seen it, is not a good movie.
That doesn't mean it's not fascinating, though, to watch Assange continue to deal with the film's existence, and do his best in his own punkish way to undermine the movie's version of his story. Last month Wikileaks leaked the full script for the film and pointed out what they call its many inaccuracies. Today Assange has published on Wikileaks the full letter he wrote to Cumberbatch back in January, turning down the actor's request to meet and imploring him to step away from the film entirely. It's a pretty dramatic response. Here's a snippet:
You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth.
Assange, more than most people on the planet, has good reason to be paranoid-- he is indeed a wanted man, he has indeed tangled with powerful forces within the United States government, and he is feared by many powerful organizations with the weapons and knowledge to wipe him out entirely. And sure, The Fifth Estate is produced by Disney, one of the few corporations as powerful and potentially terrifying as the U.S. government itself. But the verdict is still out on whether The Fifth Estate will actually be an effective tool of propaganda against Wikileaks-- based on the middling reviews so far it seems more likely to be received as straining Oscar bait, and have far less impact than what Wikileaks itself has done.
The Fifth Estate opens next weekend, which will give us all a chance to test our own opinions against Julian Assange, film critic.