Benedict Cumberbatch has had a very busy year. The 37-year-old British actor from Hammersmith starred or headlined in several major blockbusters this past summer alone, such as the second installment of the revamped Star Trek series, August: Osage County, the third series of the BBC hit remake of Sherlock Holmes and the final two sections of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.
Cumberbatch’s latest role, though, places him in the shoes of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his subsequent rise to fame through his WikiLeaks website. A white-haired Cumberbatch depicts the self-obsessed information mastermind to a tee, brilliantly accompanied by a cast that includes Peter Capaldi, Daniel Bruhl and Stanley Tucci.
The film opens on the eve of the publishing of Chelsea (aka Bradley) Manning’s documents for the first time. The initial scene depicts board executives of the New York Times, The Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel (The Mirror) as they prepare to release the preliminary batch of documents leaked by Manning.
The film explores the morality of the acquiring and publishing of all WikiLeaks documents at great length from their initial disseminating of the Baer Bank files, which revealed extensive records of tax evasion and money laundering in the Cayman Islands to the discovery of the countless war logs collected by the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
What makes the film very striking and powerful is the frequent infusion of real-world film clips garnered from actual news sources. One particularly striking and jarring scene used the actual film collected from the intelligence leak — an Apache gunship’s footage of several innocent civilians (including children) being gunned down. Two of those gunned down were Reuters employees on assignment in the district.
The movie concludes where it began: that same scene depicting the news executives frantically discussing and editing the WikiLeaks information the night before publication. The film does an excellent job of setting the stage and laying the groundwork, from Assange’s birth and traumatic upbringing in Australia to his flight across the globe on missions of “peace” and truth searching.
The film’s pacing is erratic overall, which makes it tedious to watch at times, but the soothing instrumental soundtrack and cavalcade of good acting more than make up for it.