Generally, when the subject of a biopic is unhappy with the film made of their life, I want to see that movie a little more. Nobody who is noteworthy enough to make headlines should be happy about their own unauthorized biography; for them to love the way they're portrayed would be proof of authorial toothlessness. Last week, Julian Assange issued a statement calling The Fifth Estate, the movie about the birth of WikiLeaks, "a film by the old media about the new media" and "a geriatric snoozefest that only the US government could love." Assange also published a letter he sent to Fifth Estate star Benedict Cumberbatch in January, which opens with starstruck praise, expounds on the "significant" and eternal "bond that develops between an actor and a living subject," and ends with a plea for Cumberbatch to resign from the film:
You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth.
The thing is, pretty much everyone but Julian Assange agrees that Julian Assange is an egomaniac. And that's perfectly okay—egomaniacs are often the people who get things done, who break through boundaries. But Assange's response to the movie is a particularly paranoid one that balances his need for attention—his aroused sense of flattery is palpable—with a particularly vivacious messiah complex. In sum, it's sad that a man who started a world-changing website devoted to naked facts has so giddily tossed aside Occam's razor to pronounce a movie to be the result of an international conspiracy against him, with absolutely zero proof to back up his claims.
Assange's outrage made me eager to see The Fifth Estate. And then I saw The Fifth Estate. Movies about current events have to succeed on two fronts: They have to serve as a source of information, a piece of journalism that contextualizes the story in something as close to real time as Hollywood can muster. And they have to be a compelling piece of cinema, a work of art that makes the case for its own existence. The Fifth Estate fails at both these tasks...