While the Toronto International Film Festival this year has several powerful biopics on its schedule, the film from this genre that opened the festival was The Fifth Estate, a dramatisation of the impact of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks and its enigmatic founder Julian Assange; a movie that approaches its subject with shades of ambiguity.
Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, has probably not seen the film, though he has criticised it after getting hold of an early draft, the film’s director Bill Condon said at a media interaction the morning after its world premiere.
British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Assange, said, “I’m not a betting man, but I reckon he won’t particularly want to support the film.”
There’s no questioning this is a movie that seems grabbed from recent headlines.
TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey explained, “It’s about one of the most-timely subjects I can think of in terms of who controls information, what is out there about us and what governments are doing with the information that they hold. And it’s an ongoing story.”
It marks another milestone for the production partnership between Hollywood’s Dreamworks SKG and India’s Reliance Pictures, becoming the first film involving an Indian studio to open one of the quartet of international film festivals.
While the film does show Assange as a revolutionary figure, making the fifth estate or online media a truly potent force, and a committed change agent, it also reveals him as a character beset with egomania and paranoia, if not an anarchic temperament.
For a person obsessed with divulging secrets, Assange is compulsively mysterious about his own life, adhering to a paraphrased Oscar Wilde quote that he mouths in the movie: “Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth.”