Dreamworks Studios is firing up the publicity machine for its upcoming political thriller The Fifth Estate with a newly released trailer. The movie portrays events in the early days of the transparency organization Wikileaks and the troubled relationship between its founder Jullian Assange and former spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg.
The trailer opens with a scene depicting the main characters watching the leaked video of the now-infamous 2007 slaying by U.S. helicopter gunships of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters employees — the first of many actions Wikileaks took when it burst onto the scene in early 2010 and declared war on government secrecy. The trailer goes onto reference the organization's crusades against U.S. military adventurism and unscrupulous bankers, along with the ensuing blowback it suffered from Washington's power-elite.
Against the backdrop of dramatic leaks and the embarrassment of the political and financial establishment, the partnership and growing conflicts between Assange and Domscheit-Berg become the main storyline and the vehicle for laying out bigger issues, according to published interviews with the film's award-winning director Bill Condon. According to Domscheit-Berg's book Inside Wikileaks: My Time With Jullian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website, one of two books on which the film is based, the organization descended into exactly the type of corruption and secrecy it originally set out to fight. Domscheit-Berg lays the blame for this directly on Assange himself, asserting that the fame and intrigue of playing David to the American government's Goliath fed Assange's ego and paranoia.
After Domscheit-Berg left the organization in the summer of 2010, the dispute broke out into the open with his revelations that he had taken 3,500 Wikileaks computer files and destroyed them, citing Assange's inability to protect sources. The other main source for the screenplay was Wikileaks — Inside Julian Assange's War On Secrecy by Guardian reporters David Leigh and Luke Harding, who reveal details about the deals and relationships between Assange and the reporters from the Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Speigel.
Assange, who read an early version of the screenplay, has slammed the film as being "a lie upon a lie" and a "massive propaganda attack on Wikileaks and the character of my staff." Condon disagrees, saying "The movie presents him (Assange) neither as hero or villain. We just try to present who he is and let you make up your mind." He goes on to say that the film will also take an unbiased look at the modern erosion of privacy and government secrecy as a whole. "The idea behind the movie is to raise the questions, not to answer them, but to sort of present the complexity of the issues," Condon says.
Assange is played by English actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who, if his startlingly lifelike portrayal in the trailer holds up throughout the movie, could be a contender for the Oscars. Spanish-born German actor Daniel Bruhls will play Domscheit-Berg. Rounding out the cast are Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie, and Stanley Tucci. Bill Condon has received acclaim for much of his past work, including Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, and Dreamgirls.The film is set to be released October 18.