Call it a carry over effect from watching Star Trek Into Darkness and being wildly impressed by that actor called Benedict Cumberbatch, but it feels right that he should have gone on to play Julian Assange. Sure Assange is not a superhuman genetically engineered superior bad guy who is practically unstoppable. But he is as fascinating as the “big bad” in the Star Trek verse.
Assange is at least as zealous as the fictional Khan. His “concern” for freedom of the press and the public’s “right to know” is just as driven. He mimics Khan’s need to protect and release his crew with his vision of revealing the truth. And in the area’s of computers and hacking, Julian Assange could be considered “superhuman” in his abilities.
Cumberbatch brings the same intensity to the table as Assange that he brought to Khan in the fictional verse of Star Trek. He even evinces the same sort of uneasy feelings that he induced in Star Trek Into Darkness. It helps that the real-life Assange is not, allegedly, a likeable fellow.
A world class whistleblower, founder of WikiLeaks and champion of truth, yes. But a charming, friendly chap he is not. He is also, if charges are to be believed, a rapist or at the very least a sexual predator.
That the 37 year-old English actor is perfect for the role of the driven Assange is beyond doubt. With his blonde hair and similar facial features he could be the 42 year-old WikiLeaks founder’s non-identical twin. Benedict is also able to emit that sort of controlled chaos that Julian apparently exudes.
The actor has said in interviews that he doubts that the whistleblower would enjoy the film The Fifth Estate very much. Presumably because the film, that has been labeled a “docu-drama,” doesn’t attempt to sugar coat the message. Nor does it try to paint Assange as faultless hero.
The film shows that Julian Assange is an unstable individual who suffers from delusions of grandeur and who also displays poor judgement. For example, his refusal to edit top secret information gleaned from American government messages that could harm innocent people. It is those personality traits that make comparison’s to Star Trek’s Khan seem oddly apt.
Unfortunately the film suffers, despite Benedict Cumberbatch’s sterling performance as another megalomaniacal character similar to his Khan, because of information overload. As Julian Assange he does bring the biographical character to life, but the film lets his performance down.
Like the quick rapid-fire montage at the beginning of the film that shows the long rise of media. A rise that starts with handwritten documents, in the form of scrolls, and ends with today’s internet. The montage almost literally sets the pace and the informative nature of the film. There’s too much information given with little time spent on individual character analysis.
Cumberbatch captures the initial somewhat fey qualities of Assange as well as the aforementioned delusional attitude. As pointed out in Variety’s review of the film, the WikiLeaks founder may be a hero to a lot of folks but not many of them refer to him as a “nice guy.”
The Fifth Estate may disappoint overall, but seeing “Khan” as Julian Assange is worth it. Even without his faux blonde locks, Benedict Cumberbatch convinces and awes as the flawed whistleblower.
By Michael Smith