The Julian Assange Story
They say that that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single
step. ‘Underground: The Julian Assange Story’ is a slightly
fictionalised account of that first step undertaken by the polarising
Assange that would eventually lead to notoriety as public enemy number
one due to his leaking of classified documents through controversial
The film focuses on a relatively small period of Assange’s life,
eschewing the controversy laden latter part of his life as a political
activist to instead tell the story of young Assange’s formative years as
an idealistic hacker who breaks in to Military databases for a lark and
his subsequent first brush with the law.
Helmed by Robert Connolly of ‘Balibo’ fame, ‘Underground’ is a
made-for-TV biopic commissioned by Channel Ten, not always an indication
of a good film. Thankfully ‘Underground’ rises above made-for-TV
conventions, carried by a big name cast, including Rachel Griffiths and
Anthony LaPaglia, and heralding the exceptional debut of Alex Williams
as the young Julian Assange; expect to see more of this charismatic
Assange is living in Melbourne and going by the hacking alias of ‘Mendax’.
He forms a group called ‘The International Subversives’ who get their
kicks breaking into secure computer systems. Adhering to the mantra of
“Just look, don’t steal’, they stumble upon some volatile documents
regarding the impending Gulf War and find themselves pegged as major
threats to national security by the U.S Government.
by the FBI to find the hackers, the Australian Federal Police attempt to
beat this group of technological geniuses at their own game, despite
never having used a computer before. The film also delves into aspects
of Assange’s early life, such as the pursuit of his family by a cult and
his tentative entry into young love.
Unfortunately the scant running time of Ninety minutes barely affords
time to delve into the story and the film suffers as a result. Anthony
LaPaglia spends the entire film looking confused and wearing a tracksuit
and too many plot threads and expositional set ups make for a muddle
plot where, by the end, not all that much has really happened. The
general consensus seemed to be that the film would have worked better as
a mini-series and I am inclined to agree.
Restricting focus to Assange’s formative years also presents its own
issue; aside from the technological anachronisms, the story of Assange
and his cohorts poking around military databases is even less exciting
than it sounds, leading to a lot of shots of people typing on computers.
The subplot regarding the Assange family’s nomadic existence due to
being pursued by the infamous cult ‘The Family’ is handled well and is
an aspect of Julian’s life that I would have liked to have explored
more, again another occasion where a longer running time would have
benefitted the film.
Video & Audio Quality
All too often made-for-television productions come off as ‘Film’s’ ugly
little brother, with lower production values equating to a cheaper
aesthetic. Thankfully ‘Underground’ can more than hold its own visually
– Scenes have a bluish hue to them that make for a austere feel to the
film, imbuing even minor scenes with a tangible ‘weight’. The transfer
is high quality and the stark cinematography evokes the distinct look of
the brilliant ‘Snowtown’.
Presented in 5.1, the audio quality is crisp and clean. Dialogue is
clear and levels are consistent. No complaints in either of these areas,
really. Subtitles for the hard of hearing are also included.
Included on the DVD are a series of behind the scenes vignettes, each
one pertaining to a different facet of the production. Whilst
informative, if nothing revolutionary, the option to ‘play all’ leads to
the protracted title screen and “haunting” piano music being repeated ad
nauseum with each featurette, which can get more than a little grating,
particularly as some featurettes barely register over a minute of
running time. The areas covered are your typical behind the scenes
fodder, such as casting, the wardrobe department and the hurdles of
maintaining era authenticity throughout the production. A short
collection of deleted scenes round out the DVD, unfortunately all are
superfluous and you can kind of see why they were trimmed for time.
List of features
4 Deleted Scenes (4:08)
- The Look
- Squat Party
- Finding Julian
- Beige Box
Inevitably siding with Assange, ‘Underground – The Julian Assange Story’
offers up key defining moments in the life of a man both viewed as a
political traitor and a saviour of free speech. Your opinion on the man
will definitely factor into whether you enjoy the film although it must
be said that Connolly’s approach is even handed and by ignoring the more
sensational aspects of Assange’s later life you’re afforded a unique
insight into the building of the foundations of activism that would
later blossom with WikiLeaks.
The film looks beautiful and has strong performances for the most part,
but is much too brief and takes a few too many narrative stumbles along
the way. Enjoyable, but not without its flaws.