Romy Shiller

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The Fifth Estate

In Film, review on November 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm



ABOUT: The Fifth Estate is a 2013 American thriller film directed by Bill Condon, about the news-leaking website WikiLeaks starring Benedict Cumberbatch as its editor-in-chief and founder Julian Assange, and Daniel Brühl as its former spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Stanley Tucci, and Laura Linney are also featured in supporting roles. The film’s screenplay was written by Josh Singer based in-part on Domscheit-Berg’s book Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website (2011), as well as WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy (2011) by British journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding.

Co-produced by DreamWorks Pictures and Participant Media, The Fifth Estate premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, and was released theatrically in the United States on October 18, 2013 by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label, with international distribution divided among Disney, Reliance Entertainment, and independent arrangements by Mister Smith Entertainment.

I keep thinking that this story is huge and deciding to keep focus by maintaining plot, action and character development is admirable. I did not expect to like this film and I did. Even if the story is biased and through the lens of a disgruntled employee – Daniel Domscheit-Berg – we still get insight. I think that leaving it to the viewer to weed through the crap is precisely a point of Assange’s organization. He might not like it, but all is fair in love and war baby.

WikiLeaks is an international, online, non-profit organization, which publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources.  Its website, initiated in 2006 in Iceland by the organization Sunshine Press, claimed a database of more than 1.2 million documents within a year of its launch. Julian Assange, an Australian Internet activist, is generally described as its founder, editor-in-chief, and director.

It’s no secret that WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange and others with the organization were unhappy about “The Fifth Estate.” For months, they have campaigned vocally against the movie, which WikiLeaks considers an unfair portrayal of the events leading up to U.S. Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning’s 2010 release of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables and other government materials.

[Assange] published a letter on Oct. 9 that he sent to actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who is portraying him in the flick. The letter was originally sent in January before filming began… “You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth.”

Assange seems pissed-off, eh?

The story opens in 2010 before flashing back to journalist Daniel Domscheit-Berg meeting Julian Assange for the first time in 2007.

The story is about their friendship, alliance and how they worked together.  I imagine that people who know very little about the Wikileaks story will absolutely get insight here. You see the viral leaking of classified documents. Now, morals and ethics are subjective, right? People always bring, to every story, their own proclivities. This is no different. I don’t believe that anything is empirical or outside of meaning. Not even data. Radical, eh? Anyhow, the film… the acting is fabulous.

Benedict Cumberbatch was great and is in everything these days. He plays Sherlock Holmes in the TV series Sherlock and was recently Kahn in the film Star Trek Into Darkness. “It was important for me to portray him as a three-dimensional human being and not get into a slagging match about whether he was good or bad. I wanted to portray human characteristics about a man at the forefront of an incredible media revolution, with incredible ideas, whose controversy was primarily borne out of that, and not get bogged down in character assassination, which is so easy to come by. People want a headline, they want to grab something and run with a two-dimensional story.”

The film’s director, Bill Condon, won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Gods and Monsters. His other features include Sister, Sister, Kinsey, Dreamgirls and The Twilight Saga

The Toronto International Film Festival made this observation; you don’t disclose three-quarters of a million classified documents without making a few enemies. So discovers WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate, a mesmerizing, complex portrait of an embattled new-media luminary. The Fifth Estate details WikiLeaks’s rise to international notoriety and the subsequent souring of relations between Assange and his most trusted lieutenant, Daniel Domscheit-Berg.

This is a good film, not too heady – simple really – and to see Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting is worth it. Even if you are ambiguous about certain plot points and the existence of a contentious relationship, I would recommend this film.