Julian Assange is one of the most significant figures of the twenty first century. But before he was famous, before WikiLeaks, before the internet even existed, he was a teenage computer hacker in Melbourne. This is his story. In 1989, known as 'Mendax', Assange and two friends formed a group called the 'International Subversives'. Using early home computers and defining themselves as 'white hat hackers' - those who look but don't steal - they broke into some of the world's most powerful and secretive organisations. They were young, brilliant, and in the eyes of the US Government, a major threat to national security. At the urging of the FBI, the Australian Federal Police set up a special taskforce to catch them. But at a time when most Australian police had never seen a computer, let alone used one, they had to figure out just where to begin. Police ingenuity and old-fashioned detective work are pitted against nimble, highly skilled young men in this new crime frontier. What follows,... Written by
Whenever a movie has some political agenda or seems to, the reviewer votes divide into haters and lovers, ten stars vs one star and so on. I am an admirer of Wikileaks, but I can't view this movie so singlesidedly. Instead, I have to compare it to similar movies like Operation Takedown or even Hackers. Also, I have to take into account that this is not a big budget American movie, but an Australian TV drama.
On that scale, Underground is surprisingly good. I wouldn't know how factual it is, but take into consideration that it is based on a book (that is freely available online) about the hacker culture, written when Julian Assange was a nobody. It has no connection to Wikileaks at all and none of the Assanges consulted on the movie (even though Julian himself said he liked it when he saw it).
The actors were well chosen, the boy looks like Assange a bit, and they all acted pretty well. There are two known names in the cast: Rachel Griffiths as the mother and Anthony LaPaglia as the cop chasing him. As for the story, it was eerily similar to Operation Takedown: the morally driven hacker that raises a middle finger to authority in his quest for truth. Unlike Mitnick, though, he only paid a 2100$ fine allegedly because the judge sympathised with his family's "nomadic lifestyle".
As for the main complaint, that the movie doesn't explain the motivations of Julian Assange, that is a good thing. Several pieces of the puzzle are presented: his obsessive personality, his cult leader step dad, his morally outspoken mother, his discovery of American misdoings in the first Gulf War. They all are just pieces. Many other exist and it is the role of the viewer to get or not interested in putting them together.
My conclusion is that for people not interested in the hacker culture or specifically Assange, the movie will seem pointless. For the others, though, it is a good watch. There is, of course, some dramatization, changes of perspective and so on, but in the end it does well what it set to do and that is why I recommend it wholeheartedly.
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