“Man is least himself when he talks as his own person,” Julian Assange (Cumberbatch) says early in this film. “But if you give him a mask, he will tell you the truth. …if we could find one moral man, one whistle-blower…that man can topple the most powerful and most repressive of regimes.” Assange found lots of whistleblowers, so many that he started a website — “WikiLeaks” – that may have revealed more “hard news,” more “dirty little secrets” than all the major news media combined. The question is: Is Assange a “moral man?” Don’t look to this movie for answers. Also, don’t look to this movie for any wit, any depth of storytelling – or even people you will like.
Director Bill Condon is much more intent on making a movie that moves at computer speed across the world, delivering examples rather than emotion, staying on the surface of what happened, rather than probing for why. Cumberbatch is brilliant in the role of Assange with his white flowing hair, his imperialistic manner, and his measured speech that seems to be coming through a plastic mouthguard that makes it all seem unreal, even “processed.” We never like him or even necessarily understand him, but we can’t stop watching him, waiting for what he will do next. If only he had a sense of humanity… Ultimately, it feels like we are watching an empty shell of a man, someone who could be fascinating if we could just get to know him – but we won’t know him here. And as it goes along, this movie does “grow on you,” keep you involved and engaged…and thinking. But it feels so long.