Another WikiLeaks film. Another film about Julian Assange. Do we need it?
That is the question that the first trailer for The Fifth Estate is seeking to answer, or possibly just avoid all together. On the back of Robert Connolly's revealing Undergound: The Julian Assange Story telemovie and Alex Gibney's excellent documentary We Steal Secrets: The Wikileaks Story, comes the Julian Assange biopic The Fifth Estate, a film without a colon in its title and with some stiff competition.
This first look is offiically a teaser trailer, but given the subject matter it's not so much a tease as a taste. We know not only how it ends, but many will feel they know how it starts and progresses as well.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange and Daniel Bruhl as Daniel Domscheit-Berg in the movie The Fifth Estate. Photo: Dreamworks
For example the military footage at the start of the teaser. It's the video known as Collateral Damage. Sure we don't see the footage as it is being discussed, but we know it. Whether it be from the news, from We Steal Secrets or online via WikiLeaks itself, a lot of the people drawn to this trailer will know the footage intimately, and horrifically. The core audience for this film - those already interested in the subject - will arrive with a considerable knowledge base.
That's both the problem and the potential with The Fifth Estate.
There is no doubt there is interest in this subject. The 2010 runner up for Time Magazine's Person of the Year, Assange is a figure of intense scrutiny, speculation, fascination and for some hero worship. He is hugely popular with the younger demographic that cinemas want to draw in as well, he's even appearing, via video link, at the Splendour in the Grass festival this year, his second appearance.
On the other hand, Connolly and Gibney have both given us fascinating and well executed films that have carefully and artfully sketched in the details for Assange's past and present. One a biopic, one a documentary, they are both well worth seeing, and it's probably safe to say it's a little early for a reboot of the franchise.
So is there space left for yet another Assange movie?
Sex, silhouettes and secrets
There is one gap: the events we haven't seen because they weren't filmed. What happened in the White House in response to WikiLeaks? What happened in Sweden? In the Middle East once the names were revealed? What happened to US soldier and suspected whistleblower Bradley Manning?
That is the only window remaining to this biopic if it wants to shine new light on Wikileaks, and it appears that is where they're heading both from many of the scenes in the trailer and the title itself. The fourth estate is the news media as a political force, by implication the fifth estate is the internet as a political force.
The Fifth Estate
The title indicates that's where the movie is going but the captions in the trailer are all about Assange the individual. HE is a visionary. HE is a traitor. Clearly Assange is at the heart of any WikiLeaks story, however we just need to hope this won't devolve into another blow by blow account of Assange's life, mission and Ecuadorian refuge. Make the film about the world before and after WikiLeaks, please.
"Two people and a secret, the beginning of all conspiracy"
Benedict Cumberbatch is hot right now and for good reason. The incredibly talented actor has won plaudits as Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein recently and is said to be brilliant as both Smaug and the Necromancer in the remaining Hobbit films.
Here he's got the hair right but most importantly it seems he's got the voice down. After recent efforts to butcher the Aussie accent by Quentin Tarantino, in Django Unchained, and a pair of incomprehensible drifters, in Pacific Rim, it seems that at the very least, we won't spend half of this film cringing at the awful twang.
"Truth justice and the American way"
Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci are two superb actors at the top of their game. They may need to be as they seem to have the roles that could devolve into silly stereotype very easily. He is clearly the spin doctor seeking any human tragedy he can blame on Assange. She is the first person on the inside to recognise the potential (and potential harm) of WikiLeaks. Their roles will require all their acting chops if they have to deliver lines like the (above) Superman mantra, but humour is going to be important too and this works at that level ... just.
Action, ego and architecture
The end of the trailer implies we're going to have multiple chase sequences, with the old on-the-train, off-the-train stunt and gun-toting motorcyclists. So it's certainly not all documentary!
There's also some great European architecture being used to set scenes here and that can only help make this film bigger than one man. That said, when we get statements like "if we'd had someone like you the Berlin Wall would have come down years ago" the old Julian Assange love letter sounds like it might be rearing up again.
"Man is more himself when he talks in his own person"
Which brings us to the piece to camera. Hopefully it's indicative of the role Assange's interviews have had in the rise and fall (or slight decline) of WikiLeaks. Certainly his ego is mentioned in one rant against him in the trailer.
"That's what they're afraid of, you"
What we're afraid of is a film that doesn't progress this story, because it is actually important and highly relevant.
From the limited indications of the "teaser" trailer, it would seem there's still a lot to hope for; The Fifth Estate might just find that gap in the market it needs.