Julian Assange has been in the public eye for over a decade with his establishing of WikiLeaks and the diffusion of so much information on his website.
This film presupposes that the audience is well aware of the background of WikiLeaks and takes up the situation for Assange in 2010, his being interviewed by Laura Poitras who has continued to film him over several years with Risk as the culmination of her following his life and career. In the meantime, she was instrumental in filming Edward Snowden in Hong Kong after he left the United States in 2013 (and appears as a character, played by Melissa Leo, in Oliver Stone’s film Snowden).
Audiences have had mixed reactions towards Assange and his role with WikiLeaks and mixed reactions towards him as a person. There was an interesting film about him as a teenager, Robert Connolly’s Underground: the Julian Assange Story. Celebrated documentary maker, Alex Gibney, made a significant documentary, We Steal Secrets. Then there was the feature film, The Fifth Estate, directed by Bill Condon, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Assange – not a particularly sympathetic character.
In the early part of this film, he does appear more sympathetic, younger looking than might have been expected. He is fairly articulate, seen on the phone, in contact with the US State Department, discussing Hillary Clinton and the downloading of leaks. He lives comfortably in Norfolk, giving interviews, with his loyal assistant working hard, Sarah Harrison, as well as other staff members.
However, with the charges of a sexual nature brought against him in Sweden, the hostility of the American government and his status in the United Kingdom, the film spends some time showing him and his decision to go to the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He went there in June 2011 – and this film was released five years later with him still being in the embassy.
With Laura Poitras, who says she felt that Assange did not particularly like her, he becomes involved in the situation of Edward Snowden as well as of Bradley Manning and Manning being sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for revealing secrets to the media (with later information that President Obama pardoned Manning who had, in prison, undergone a sex change as well as attempting suicide twice).
There is a gap of three years with the status quo concerning Assange and the embassy, a peculiar interview with a peculiar Lady Gaga, resuming with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, WikiLeaks involvement and the discussions of the Russian connection in revealing secrets about Hillary Clinton’s campaign and attitudes towards campaigner Bernie Sanders. Then there is the Trump victory – but with the head of the FBI, James Comey, being interrogated by Senate committee about the Russian connection. After the film was made, the situation became far more complex in real life with the former FBI chief fired by Trump and being interrogated about Trump and the Russians and the campaign.
Not the final word on Julian Assange but an overview and an update for 2017.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting