The film begins with Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) recruiting computer whiz Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl) to help run WikiLeaks, a watchdog website exposing organizational secrets. From the beginning, Condon tries too hard to emulate The Social Network, using every possible tactic to remind us that developing the tech world is just so cool. As Assange and Domscheit-Berg gain global prominence and notoriety, the film jumps dizzyingly from city to city and party to party, with newspaper headlines and streams of code flashing across the screen. If you’ve seen The Social Network, you can also predict where the relationship between socially inept genius and enamored sidekick is headed from the first 10 minutes. The moral issues surrounding the leaking of U.S. diplomatic cables that eventually divide Assange and Domscheit-Berg could be engrossing, but the relationship’s formulaic predictability makes it hard to care, particularly when Domscheit-Berg resorts to tirades about Assange insulting him on Twitter.
If Condon had been willing to leave The Social Network tropes behind, this film could have been successful. Some of the film’s most engaging scenes feature Peter Capaldi as the editor of The Guardian and Laura Linney as a State Department official, both of whom grapple with the changing nature of their jobs as WikiLeaks develops. And overall, Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Assange is the strongest part of the film. He toes the line perfectly between morally bankrupt outcast and passionate freedom fighter, and by the end, gives the viewer a better idea of WikiLeaks’ ambiguous ethics than Condon can with the film’s clichéd relationships and plot.