Underground: The Julian Assange Story

Underground: The Julian Assange Story (Robert Connolly, 2012) Rachel Griffiths, Anthony LaPaglia, Alex Williams, Callan McAuliffe, Laura Wheelwright; biopic

This recalls The Bank, Connolly's first feature, and another with a computer-nerd hero. (It's also his third starring Anthony LaPaglia.) And as with The Bank, he has the difficult job of building tension as we watch someone type on a computer keyboard—and this one is that of a Commodore 64! There is too much material here for 89 minutes, and, as it turns out the film-makers have a particular case to present, this would have been better as a two-hour, two-part series going out on the ABC. Tangentially, this shows the power of the written word: in the last frame of the movie. It's one of those biopics in which the coda takes the form of cards (printed words on the screen) and it is only in the last of these that Connolly reveals his attitude to the story he has just presented: he's for Assange. It's an aha! ten-second moment which subtly changes the other 5340 seconds that have preceded it.

Connolly’s cat-and-mouse construction forces the viewer to spend far too much time looking over actors’ necks as they jab away at their keyboards - of course it’s what Julian Assange does, but it’s a killer for momentum. The production gamely tries to overcome this obstacle by hitting the nostalgia button with nifty period equipment (Commodores, etc) and modem sounds not heard on screen for a long time. The Police operations room is a hoot. Fionnuala Halligan, Screen Daily.

Australian writer-director Robert Connolly specialises in lean, socially committed thrillers, and makes the tapping of keyboards and inner workings of Assange’s brain gripping enough. Alex Williams plays Assange with now familiar arrogance, mixed with youthful vulnerability. Connolly sources his disdain for power in an adolescence spent being hunted across Australia with his mum (Rachel Griffiths) by a white supremacist cult, to the authorities’ sluggish indifference. Nick Hasted, theartsdesk.com.

This film is deeply frustrating watch. It takes the approach of many biopics – cramming in as much information as possible. The chemistry between Alex Williams and Laura Wheelwright amounts to either “I smile at you” or “This is my argument face.” Among the younger cast members, Callum McAuliffe and Jordan Raskopoulos fair [he means 'fare'] much better by actually having personalities. Williams does have a fantastic moment at the end, shared with Anthony LaPaglia that actually hits at what drove Assange and connects deeply with who the man has become.
Forcing multiple stories together because they all occurred around the same time is what a hardcover biography does – they have 1000 plus pages to tell a story, not two hours or less. If the film focused more on the actual espionage (the best handled scenes) this could have been an exciting addition to TIFF. Unfortunately we were given a TV movie. Daniel Janvier, Toronto Film Scene.


New: 18 August, 2013 | Now: 18 August, 2013 | garrygillard[at]gmail.com