The Fifth Estate

A collaboration between Britain, the US & Belgium, The Fifth Estate is a 2013 film about the news-leaking website WikiLeaks. It was directed by Bill Condon with 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, Carice Van Houten, Alexander Siddig and Laura Linney are 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.

The movie tells us about the meeting between Assange & Berg, which took place in 2007 at the Chaos Computer Club event in Berlin. Previously the two had only corresponded via email, spurred by Daniel’s interests in online activism. Together they work on  WikiLeaks, a website devoted to releasing information being withheld from the public while retaining anonymity for its sources. Their first major target is a large Swiss bank, Julius Baer, when reports of illegal activities being conducted in their Cayman Islands branch. The bank sues the organization but the judge rules in the favour of WikiLeaks and the jubilant duo push forward in publishing information over the next three years, including secrets on Scientology, revealing Sarah Palin’s email account, and the membership list of the British National Party. Initially Daniel loves their work but things star to strain when the BNP’s membership release which also had the addresses of the members. He loses his job when it is found out that he is collborating with WikiLeaks and his relationship is also tense. Assange laughs off his concerns & issues, implying his own life has been more troubling. Julian’s behaviour towards Daniel also is abrasive & thoughtless, such as abandoning Daniel & his parents at their house after accepting an invitation for dinner, before the dinner had started.

The movie has brief moments of flashbacks that hint at Assange’s troubled childhood, and involvement in a suspicious cult, and that Assange’s obsession with WikiLeaks has more to do with childhood trauma than wanting to improve the world. Julian lies about having 100s of workers; instead it’s multiple email addresses created & used by him. Julian also seems to have different lies about why his hair is white. Daniel fears that Julian’s agenda for WikiLeaks is more than just improving the world. However the real issue becomes when Daniel suspects that Julian’s initial claim of protecting the identity of the sources of the leaks is infact so people will come forward and that Assange does not actually care who gets hurt by the website. To this Assange says that more good is done by the leaks which outweigh the harm created. Daniel’s girlfriend urges him to make sure that Julian doesn’t go too far. And then the Bradley Manning leaks hit the website; hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, including a video of an airstrike in Baghdad, the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, and 250,000 US Diplomatic Cables. Daniel urges caution and the documents be reviewed first and, before releasing them along with several major newspapers, that the files be redacted to protect the source. Although Julian agrees, Daniels finds out that Assange has no intention of sticking to the agreement and is also grooming someone else to replace Daniel as his right hand man.

The redacted documents are eventually released by the newspapers, resulting in media and public uproar, forcing American informants to flee from their countries of residence and many America diplomats to resign. Before Assange can go further, however, Daniel and the other members of the original WikiLeaks team delete the site and block Assange’s access to the server. In a later interview Daniel discusses with The New York Times about the mistake in giving Assange such a large platform, even though the reporter feels that Julian may have done a good thing, though be untrustworthy himself.  Daniel also reveals the real reason for Assange’s hair – that it had been a custom of the cult he had been part of in Australia, also including that he once walked in on him dyeing it that colour. WikiLeaks continues on releasing information with Assange either regaining access or rebuilding it. Assange himself is shown to be living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in the wake of an outstanding warrant on sexual allegations. He also denounce the two films being made on him & WikiLeaks as they are based mostly on Daniel’s book and calls hiring him the one mistake he made.

Great acting by Cumberbatch depecting a flawed & troubled man who perhaps has so many layers to him beyond what is already known. Brühl & Thewlis also do really good work here but the film lacks any excitement or even a narrative flow. 7 outta 10!

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