Toronto: 'Fifth Estate' Could be Tough Sell for U.S. Audiences

Some Americans might disapprove of Julian Assange for the same reasons global fans of WikiLeaks adore him.

Director Bill Condon presents WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as both a visionary and a troubled anarchist in The Fifth Estate, a strategy that highlights the upcoming challenge of marketing a Hollywood film about a figure who might repel some U.S. moviegoers.

On Friday, after the opening-night premiere of the DreamWorks/Participant film produced mixed reviews, both Condon and star Benedict Cumberbatch dodged questions about whether they consider Assange a hero or anti-hero. The Australian hacker faces charges of sexual misconduct in Sweden and remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

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The filmmakers were asked at the press conference whether the Assange character was watered down to appeal both to global fans of Wikileaks and U.S. audiences who might abhor the impact of his actions on U.S. Government secrets. Condon said he and producer Anonymous Content didn’t set out to make a movie that takes sides.

“Our conversations were just go ahead, embrace the ambiguity, be more ambiguous, don’t worry about that,” Condon said of his backers.

But now Disney faces a challenge in releasing the $30 million-budgeted film Oct. 18 in the U.S. via its Touchstone label. The studio deliberately is billing the R-rated film as a thriller rather than a political biopic. It hopes fans of adult dramas and the similarly themed The Social Network are curious to know more about Assange and his impact.

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“He’s an absolute pioneer and he’s made a huge difference,” Condon said.

Said DreamWorks chairman Stacey Snider: “We did feel that the questions raised were more provocative than the conclusions that we could possibly draw because he’s a global figure who’s still alive.”