by Alex Jindra
“Hero or villain? You decide” reads the fitting tag line for the movie “The Fifth Estate.” The story begins when WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl) team up to become underground watchdogs of the privileged and powerful. Quickly they create an online platform (WikiLeaks) that allows whistle-blowers to anonymously leak covert data, shining a light into dark recesses of government secrets and corporate crimes.
The tag team starts out with somewhat innocuous information but then continues to become established and eventually stumbles into the largest collection of confidential intelligence documentation in U.S. history. Because of their findings, a number of governments soon begin closely trailing Assange and Domscheit-Berg.
The suspense continues to build as agents begin following them, and the sense of real danger is tangible. However, the two soon begin to battle against each other, and a defining question of our time emerges: what are the costs of keeping secrets in a free society, and what are the costs of exposing them?
The film is based on the two books published in 2011 on the topic of WikiLeaks. “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website” was written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg. The second, authored by David Leigh, is titled “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy.” Each book is critical of WikiLeaks and especially critical of Julian Assange’s involvement with the organization.
As an actor, Benedict Cumberbatch captures Assange’s narcissism and raging paranoia very well. He’s especially cunning in scenes where Assange tells lies only to revise them when the truth surfaces.
At one point, Assange quotes, “Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. But if you give him a mask, he will tell you the truth. Two people and a secret: the beginning of all conspiracies. More people and more secrets. But if we could find one moral man, one whistle-blower, someone willing to expose those secrets, that man can topple the most powerful and most repressive of regimes.” He says this as if it were a nursery rhyme he has known his entire life.
“The Fifth Estate” is directed by Bill Condon (Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2). The acting and suspense correlate well with the fast-paced plot line of the film.
The film is often overly critical of Julian Assange. Assange himself has said he’s not a fan of the movie and feels that the film projects him and his work in a negative light.
Overall, the film is well done. It features quality acting, a solid plot line, a tense pace and an ambiguous ending. The greatest strength of this film is that there isn’t a clear hero or villain. It’s up to the viewer, to interpret which is which. The answer may be neither.
Release Date: Oct 18
Rated: R for language and some violence
Genre: Drama, Adaptation