The Fifth Estate: Not Transparent Enough—Movie

“The tyrants of the world should beware…but what about the others?” Guardian journalist Nick Davies and WikiLeaks co-founder Daniel Berg ponder this question at the end of “The Fifth Estate.” This question really goes to the heart of the film. Directed by Bill Condon, based on books by  Daniel Domscheit-Berg and David Leigh and Luke Harding  and adapted by Josh Singer, “The Fifth Estate” is not so much a biography of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, but is more about the growth of WikiLeaks and the power it had for good and evil.The_Fifth_Estate_poster

“The Fifth Estate” begins with the early days of WikiLeaks and the meeting of Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl). During that get-together they discover that they have similar ideals and goals. The two form a partnership, which in  Berg’s eyes is a partnership of equals. Working with Berg opens Assange up to a network of like-minded cohorts, bent on bringing transparency to the inner workings of corporations and governments. Through Berg’s computer pals, WikiLeaks is able to download information much faster and provide more immediacy to their work. It’s that immediacy and sense of urgency at all cost which eventually causes Berg to rethink what WikiLeaks is doing. Has its original intent gotten out of control?

Both Cumberbatch and Brühl are very good as Assange and Berg respectively. Cumberbatch obviously has the showier role and he does a terrific job in displaying the sheer ego and dedication to what Assange believes is his calling. Brühl’s performance is more understated and nuanced as it needs to be.

According to the film, much of the planning and recruiting for WikiLeaks takes place in underground venues all over the world. If true, I find this part of the of the WikiLeaks story fascinating. Where once grand ideas and uber planning took place in smoke-filled, staid rooms and clubs, the new world order for plotting is now done against the backdrop of a backbeat. The setting does give a somewhat hipster feel to the idea of document leaking…deserved or not. Leaking has become cool.

Every now and then “The Fifth Estate” has the spirit of “The Social Network”—two young men expanding the role of new media. But as the film goes on to show the resulting collateral damage of leaks, “The Fifth Estate” shifts in tone. Sometimes it feels like “Argo;” sometimes it’s “All the President’s Men.” And therein lays the problem. Despite strong acting, “The Fifth Estate”  doesn’t succeed ultimately because it isn’t quite sure of what kind of film it wants to be.  What it should be is the Julian Assange story. For someone who is so dynamic and driven and manages to outwit major companies and countries, we are told very little of his back story.  We are teased with information, but never learn why becomes such a crusader. We actually find out more about Berg (maybe that’s because the movie uses his book), but frankly, he’s not the interesting character. I left the film wanting to know a lot more about Assange.  That’s the film I want to see.

2 nuggets out of 4

 

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