THE FIFTH ESTATE: “As if you are watching it on an iPad.”

the fift estate move poster
the fift estate move poster

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange
Daniel Bruhl as Daniel Domscheit-Berg
Stanley Tucci as James Boswell
Laura Linney as Sarah Shaw
Peter Capaldi as Alan Rusbridger
David Thewlis as Nick Davies

The Fifth Estate is the story of how two computer hackers/tech geeks, Juilan Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, created the international whistle blower website WIkiLeaks. Daniel and Julian met in Berlin in 2007. They had been corresponding for some time. Julian had a underlying desire to uncover information that companies, and governments keep hidden from the public. He strongly felt that the people had the right to know who was running the world, their lives. He believed that companies and governments should be transparent. Julian wanted to set up a means for people to come forward with sensitive information anonymously so that they could not be retaliated against. That’s when Julian and Daniel created WikiLeaks. It started with just the two of them, but they slowly gained staff and support. WikiLeaks was responsible for bringing to international attention the Julius Baer Group—a private Swiss banking group—and uncovering their Cayman Island branch’s illegal activities. As a result, a court injunction temporarily shut down the site, but it got overturned and Julian and Daniel continued uncovering all kinds of secrets from Scientology, to British National Party Members and even Sarah Palin’s e-mail account.

WikiLeaks went on to publishing submissions from whistleblowers. This lead to the release of a video that was taken on a raid in Afghanistan by American troops that gunned down innocent bystanders including a Reuters reporter and his cameraman. This video known as “Collateral Murder” got world-wide coverage and put Wikileaks on America’s radar, but the biggest leak of all—and what caused a huge rift between Daniel and Julian—was the release of thousands of cables and text messages that had been sent to the U.S. State Department. These cables contained classified information about government operations. There were also leaks of documents pertaining to the Afghan War and the Iraq war. Daniel felt that the information should have been gleaned to keep the lives of intelligence and diplomatic workers safe. Julian was adamant that everything be published. This caused Daniel to reevaluate his connection to WikiLeaks and to Julian.

Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey) gives us a modern “user friendly” application with The Fifth Estate. The movie looks almost as if you are watching it on an iPad. When depicting the “minds eye” view of WikiLeaks that Julian and then Daniel have come to adopt, the visuals become slightly poetic and surreal. Daniel Bruhl (Rush) gives a great performance as the acolyte to the cause of freedom of information, but the core of this film is the depiction of founder Julian Assange played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch. While Cumberbatch is a capable actor, Assange is painted with a broad brush. He appears as an idealist, an egotist, and eventually megalomaniac. I actually felt like I was watching the movie Jobs. The portrayal of someone who is conceived of as a “genius” or “vanguard,” but you see more of their worst or most unappealing characteristics. We only see glimpses of or impressions of who Julian really is or what made him who he is; what drives him. This film is based on two books about Julian and WikiLeakes, one of which was written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, so perhaps that is why it seems as if we are all seeing Julian through his eyes.

Unfortunately we may never know Julian’s side of the story, as he is loathe to tell it, but The Fifth Estate is a notable film and given the state of the media and information usage in our society, one I think you should see.


Check out the trailer for “THE FIFTH ESATE” below:

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