Underground: reviews

I’ve published my review of Underground today and here are a few others following its screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Straightforward and effective, “Underground” is a made-for-TV biopic about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s formative years as a teenage hacker in Australia. Helmer-scribe Robert Connolly (“The Bank,” “Balibo”), an Oz filmmaker with a genuine and consistent social conscience, does an excellent job of dramatizing Assange’s unconventional background and his coming of age during a time of political activism and technological innovation, albeit taking artistic license with incidents, characters and timelines. Guaranteed to be one of the smallscreen events of the year when it preems on Network Ten Down Under, this timely, strongly thesped drama reps quality material for fests and broadcast outlets worldwide.

While “Underground” ultimately clearly sides with Assange morally (even if legally, he’s breaking the law), no matter where you fall on the issue or how you feel about his subsequent efforts at Wikileaks (the seeds of which we see emerge here), Connolly mostly keeps an even hand with his approach. He can’t help but twist the knife a bit in the media’s side, with one journalist telling Assange that his readers only want 4-5 word headlines, and 200-300 word stories, and thus there’s no place for true investigative work. But on the other hand, Roberts’ drive to bring Assange in is never painted as misguided or vindictive, allowing LaPaglia to find a note in his character that might perhaps admire what the young criminal is doing, but is still focused on ensuring that crimes are punished. There are many ways in which the story of Julian Assange can be sensationalized — and with numerous feature films and documentaries still in development, there’s lot of opportunituy for it to still happen — but as one of the first major productions out of the gate, Connolly and his cast do it right. While it might not be as comprehensive as some may wish for (and at times makes for a narrative that is perhaps a bit too polished and streamlined), “Underground” entertainingly and informatively captures a teenager at the cusp of historical, technological and journalistic revolution, and reveals how it shaped him into the man he has since become. 

Herald Sun
Like Underbelly, Howzat and PaperGiants: The Birth of Cleo, Underground sheds light on an intriguing chapter of Australian history. It takes place in an era when computer crime was still unexplored territory for the Federal Police, who were mystified how a teenager – operating under the hacker profile Mendax – could possibly infiltrate international banks, telecommunications companies, US Military secrets and even the police computer system itself – from a squatter’s house in Thornbury using only a Commodore 64 and a suburban phone line……It’s hard not to walk away from this show without feeling more sympathy and understanding for Assange’s political agenda.

Sydney Morning Herald:
Underground – a taut thriller very much in the spirit of Connolly’s previous political films – proves a gripping, tense, exquisitely paced experience. It boasts excellent performances from a fine cast (Rachel Griffiths also stars, as Assange’s politically minded mother).

The cast and Robert Connolly also spoke to the Hollywood Reporter.


  1. @mj, I think @slam has it right – if you have a drama project that’s a little different, a little more edgy or imaginative than the rest, then it’s fairly common knowledge that your best chance is with Ten. It may not be the highest rating network these days but at least you tend to get an intelligent and even-handed appraisal of your drama concepts.

  2. I think Ten is known as a Network not averse to taking risk to make good TV. We’ve seen lately how this can backfire in the reality genre but on the whole the drama tends to be above average and raises the bar for commercial networks. I don’t think House Husbands would have ever existed if shows such as Offspring didn’t show to Gyngell how well a character centred show can work for a network.

    It’s expensive TV but I wish TEN would play to their strength here and commission a swathe of smart drama’s and get their cool back

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