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Dawn of the Assange cult

  • 15 March 2013

Underground: The Julian Assange Story (M). Director: Robert Connolly. Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Rachel Griffiths, Alex Williams, Laura Wheelwright. 90 minutes

The subtitle could easily be 'a' as opposed to 'the Julian Assange story'. It focuses on a very specific period of the life of the Wikileaks founder (lately turned would-be Australian politician), that being his fledgling law-flouting shenanigans in 1989 as a prodigious young hacker from the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne.

It's also fair to say it is a yarn spun specially for those who see Assange not as a cyber crook but as larrikin hero — Ned Kelly armed with a dial-up modem — sticking it to the stodgy local police force (represented here by a neatly mulletted LaPaglia) and inspired by his activist mum Christine (the ever wonderful Griffiths) to disrupt the dodgy deeds of no lesser international supervillain than the US military at the dawn of the first Gulf War.

Writer-director Robert Connolly's film — which originally aired last year on Channel Ten and is about to embark on a national theatrical tour and series of events* — makes a deeply sympathetic character of Assange as it explores these early experiences as a softly spoken maverick and computer genius.

The roots of his civil disobedience are linked to his derision of Christine's penchant for seemingly ineffective peaceful protest. While his family's run-ins with the mountain cult of which they were one-time members adds a sinister spin to the film and serves to test the character's faith in traditional forms of law enforcement, while also hinting at lasting psychological trauma in Assange that may contribute to his later persona as a lone avenger.

The character is given further vulnerability and basic human fallibility by the portrayal of his youthful affair with the young mother of his first son (Wheelright), who is initially enamoured to his passion and genius but becomes frustrated and alienated by his single mindedness. In the casting of newcomer Williams as Assange Connolly has found the perfect combination of boyish charm with a sense of fierce genius and introverted charisma.

One of the film's great charms is its abundance of period detail, in particular of 1989 computer technology, which is at once laughably nostalgic but also revelatory of the ends to which Assange