The first trailer is now out for what might be one of the fall movie season's more politically contentious films: Bill Condon's take on Julian Assange, The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch in what could be a career-defining role.
If you still somehow don't know who Cumberbatch is, you will by the end of this year: he's not only in Fifth Estate, but also voices the titular dragon in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and has roles in the awards-bait dramas 12 Years a Slave and August: Osage County. But Assange is probably his best chance at an Oscar.
Cumberbatch is great at playing characters who are somehow both magnetic and repellant. Oftentimes his bad guys possess a certain nobility of purpose, while his good guys flicker with hints of danger or menace. His Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness—if this is a spoiler for you at this point, consider yourself spoiled—had pathos despite his dark intentions. His ultimately well-meaning Sherlock, on the eponymous BBC show, had so many sociopathic tics that others around him became convinced that the famous detective was perpetrating the very crimes he was investigating. All this is to say that Cumberbatch will likely make a mesmerizing Julian Assange, a real-life character who obviously stands on some pretty precarious moral ground.
The trailer mostly focuses on Assange's WikiLeaks work, which has the U.S. government up in a snit. (Though, one darkened scene of Assange and a woman undressing makes us wonder how deep the film will delve into the sexual assault allegations made against Assange three years ago.) As for Assange's political motives, director Condon explained to Christopher Rosen of The Huffington Post that the hacktivist (sorry) "was against us right from the beginning." Ultimately, the biggest question of the film will be: Is Assange a hero? The trailer features a lot of pontificating from Assange about challenging power structures, but Condon carefully told Anthony Brenizcan of Entertainment Weekly that "the movie presents him neither as hero or villain. We just try to present who he is and let you make up your mind." Condon said he thinks Assange is "neither."
The question will likely be debated long after the film debuts in October.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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