The Fifth Estate (2013)

No organization has caused as much buzz for almost every government on the planet as WikiLeaks has. The secret-leaking site has brought down corrupt bankers, has helped aid relief in Kenya and has also unveiled horrible war secrets from many different armies. While they do help sometimes, the site also has put many people at risk when it leaks personal information and undercover documents about key people. The dispute over WikiLeaks legality and usefulness has taken the world by storm in the last few years and is still a pressing issue. The most interesting thing, is that this organization was founded by just one man.

Assange and Berg, at the beginning of expanding WikiLeaks.

Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl) was a computer programmer and part-time hacker. Outside of work and even during work, Berg was in constant communication with a man named Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Assange was big in the hacker world, as he owned and operated the website, a site that allowed for submission of secret documents to be posted online for everyone to see. When the two finally met, they joined forces in an effort to liberate countries and help bring down the unjust.

Over the course of a few years, WikiLeaks managed to stir up controversy all over the world and especially in the United States. After receiving over 90,000 war-logs from an unknown source, WikiLeaks found itself in quite a conundrum. One the one hand, leaking the documents without edits is what the site is all about. On the other hand, many lives could be at risk if the documents go un-edited. This decision creates a conflict between Assange and Berg and also causes a lot of problems for the U.S. government, especially with government staff members Sarah Shaw (Laura Linney), James Boswell (Stanley Tucci) and Sam Coulson (Anthony Mackie). Ultimately, Berg left the organization and Assange is being kept at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Julian Assange is deep inside the world of code.

Julian Assange is deep inside the world of code.

The Fifth Estate is the second film this year to focus on the story of WikiLeaks, with the first being Alex Gibney‘s We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. While the latter focuses on the whole story, the former does not. The Fifth Estate, while incorporating some true events, is chock-full of unnecessary scenarios that have little to do with the story. The attention is often taken away from the site and its operators. Worse than that, tons of true events that actually impacted the site and world governments are either glossed over or left out completely. For those who don’t know the story, they won’t notice that anything is missing. However, for a film that strives to educate you on the subject, they often miss the mark.

The film chooses to use a “dream world”, where the members of WikiLeaks are seen going through government documents and posting them  online for the world to see. While Assange boasted that there were hundreds of members, it was really only himself and Daniel. Assange had created fake accounts to make the site seem more legitimate, so we see many versions of him in this world. For me, this seemed like an odd approach and it was used way too often. I get that it’s an “artistic” display, but it didn’t do wonders for me. Speaking of which, the editing in this film didn’t do anything more than make me cringe. It’s as if someone was using Windows Movie Maker and decided that frequent and interrupting transitions, including diamond cuts, we’re a great idea and that the audience would love them. Well, I didn’t. I despised them, as they became increasingly annoying and cut scenes way too short.

Here, we see two non-essential characters doing nothing.

Here, we see two non-essential characters doing nothing.

I am one who goes back and forth with deciding whether or not I like WikiLeaks, because I can clearly see both sides of the story. The reason I can do that, is because We Steal Secrets educated me very well on the history of Assange and the positives and negatives of the site. In The Fifth Estate, however, we learn a bit about Assange’s background and about a few key events in WikiLeaks history. There is never any detail about Assange hacking into NASA as a teenager,the fact that the Bradley Manning case wasn’t WikiLeaks fault, Assange’s rape charges brought upon by two women, and how Assange ended up on the run and hiding out in different Embassies. These details are either provided in a title card in the end or get a small reference in the film. For me, that’s really important information that not many people know and probably should. The picking and choosing of detail is really poor and the dialog and interactions between the characters is just dreadful. It’s congested, very Hollywood-esque and many scenes seemed like they were copies of ones in The Social Network.

Before I can talk about the few things that I enjoyed about this film, I have to bring up the US Government and the side-story involving Linny, Tucci and Mackie. Those characters are there to provide an insight into how the government viewed WikiLeaks and Assange. The dialog is political jargon that tries to arouse laughter and serious thoughts, but ultimately provokes you to wonder why you’re even seeing it all. In fact, one situation is created to exemplify the tragedies that WikiLeaks could create and it comes off as an Argo-like thrilling scene that doesn’t even matter. Combine all that with the bipolar soundtrack that infuses techno with string ensembles and you find even more comparisons to David Fincher‘s incredible outlook on the creation of Facebook. If only Aaron Sorkin could have written this film… At least it would have been bearable.

The WikiLeaks stands in horror as they watch "Collateral Murder".

The WikiLeaks stands in horror as they watch “Collateral Murder”.

On the upside, I did find that all the acting was great. Cumberbatch and Bruhl do an excellent job in displaying the extremes of their interesting characters. I thought the film handled the leaking of the information well and the inclusion of The GuardianThe New York Times and the other newspapers involved with sharing the Iraq War logs. It is fun to see more about Daniel’s contribution to the site and see Assange through his eyes. Unfortunately, these pros don’t outweigh the cons, thus I cannot recommend The Fifth Estate to anyone. I was frustrated watching it and didn’t learn as much as I would have liked to. If you, like myself, are curious about this intriguing website that has spawned so much controversy, I implore you to seek out We Steal Secrets. The film doesn’t pick a side and you’ll actually learn the truth, as Julian Assange urges you to seek out at the end of The Fifth Estate. By truth, I can only assume he meant go seek out a film that will actually educate you, so please go watch it soon!

The Fifth Estate Trailer

2 STARS!!!
2 / 5 stars     

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