Around midnight on July 16, DreamWorks released the first trailer for The Fifth Estate, the Bill Condon-directed film about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks based on Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website. Already the film has generated controversy, with Assange protesting the portrayal, and even people posting reactions to the new trailer on social media added nearly as many comments about the political pros and cons of WikiLeaks as about the trailer’s style or content.
The trailer does double duty, sharing a similar cinematic style with but striving to separate its dramatic content from the recently released Alex Gibney-directed documentary, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. Watch the trailer for We Steal Secrets again, and The Fifth Estate’s preview seems to match it almost shot for shot as it rapidly establishes its plot and presents opposing opinions about what may result when a site like WikiLeaks is unleashed upon the world. However, The Fifth Estate is a dramatization, not a documentary, and that alone makes this trailer especially entertaining and enlightening.
The trailer briefly indicates the growing rift between Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl), a key element in this film that undoubtedly will receive much more screen time when the relationship is not confined to a 2:32 preview. Most often, however, the trailer focuses on Assange’s frenetic actions to reveal formerly secret information and the flurry of international political activity once WikiLeaks goes live. The fast pace and increasingly insistent musical score draw viewers in.
The film hinges on Cumberbatch’s performance—Can he believably portray Assange? According to this trailer, he can, quite effectively. Compare the two WikiLeaks movies’ trailers to see Assange himself in the documentary and Cumberbatch-as-Assange in the dramatization, and the look, mannerisms, and, perhaps most important, voice are spot on. Even Australians commenting on YouTube announce that the actor’s accent is as close to perfect as they have heard from a non-Aussie actor.
While headlines daily report Edward Snowden’s every move (or inability to flee) and Assange remains holed up in a London embassy, this well-made trailer is certainly timely. It sticks to the story and, unlike most trailers, does not introduce its cast. Only the DreamWorks logo appears on screen, allowing the drama to unfold without breaking the audience’s attention to read credits. “If you want the truth, you should seek it out yourself,” Cumberbatch-as-Assange tells the camera. The Fifth Estate wants you to start with this trailer.