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It’s safe to say that reviews for Bill Condon’s WikiLeaks thriller “The Fifth Estate” were not quite what DreamWorks was hoping for when it opened the Toronto Film Festival last month. It was no embarrassment, and a number of critics had kind words for Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Julian Assange, but the middling response meant any opening-night buzz was swiftly subsumed by the prestige films that followed. (In contrast, “Gravity” opened Venice and was still a talking point by the festival’s close.)
With the film out in the UK tomorrow, and in the US next week, it needed a publicity lifeline to get back onto the radar – and one was kindly provided yesterday by none other than Julian Assange himself.
Well, not that kindly – since the flaxen-haired enigma evidently isn’t too keen on the film. Or, at least, the idea of it. In a personal letter to Cumberbatch sent back in January, the WikiLeaks founder expresses his admiration for the actor -- somewhat unnervingly stating that "our paths will forever be entwined" -- before venting that he "does not believe that this film is a good film," and that it is adapted from "a deceitful book by someone who has a vendetta against me and my organisation." In conclusion, he turns down Cumberbatch's prior request for a meeting.
That all seems fair enough, even if the wording of the rather long letter is more than a little unsettling. It's an occupational hazard of making biopics about living, active figures that they often won't be delighted by the prospect.
It's amusing, however, that WikiLeaks elected to publish this latter now, just as the film is about to be released -- when even publicity that's this unsupportive of the film can only stoke public interest in it. Is Assange oblivious to the irony? Or does he surreptitiously want to draw people's attention to a film that, for better or worse, is devoted entirely to him? The man knows how to keep us guessing.
I could quote further eccentric highlights of the letter, but you're better off reading the whole thing on the next page. (Yes, I'm sharing the whole letter: it's the WikiLeaks way, after all.)
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