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‘The Fifth Estate’ profiles the ego behind Wikileaks

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The Fifth Estate leverages two books to give us the story behind the creation of the whistleblowing site, Wikileaks. Created by Julian Assange, the site provided a secure way for people to submit documents that would reveal some kind of institutional wrongdoing.  Assange collaborated with technology activist Daniel Berg, and their business relationship resulted in years of scoops, breaking news and revelations.

While Assange was the visionary who created the site, Berg was the pragmatic talent who kept things operational. The movie goes into detail explaining how the two men built their site to become the harbinger of destruction to organizations practicing illegal activities- in addition to how they handled triaging the submissions, and the international fallout that resulted. Photo: HuffingtonPost.com

A challenge that the filmmakers dealt with adeptly is how to handle the reference to technology in the The Fifth Estate. Although the team glosses over details like the encryption – the audience should still be able to appreciate that they had a complex process in place in order to protect those who submitted material. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the relationship between Wikileaks and the three major newspapers, The New York Times (United States), The Guardian (United Kingdom) and Der Spiegel (Germany).

Assange and his team were working out of several different cities – so slick graphics were added to keep viewers informed of where they were, like an action adventure flick. It might date the film a bit in the future, but it helped orient the audience. The movie features several European cities and flipping back and forth helps keep the story moving.  While the film does suggest that Assange became more narcissistic over time, the audience is able to draw its own conclusions about him and doesn’t glorify how the organization handled sensitive documentation.  

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s amazing transformation into Assange is unnerving. Besides the physical attributes – ghost white hair, rounded shoulders, he nails his voice – which is a mashup of Australian and generalized English, with the hint of a lisp. Apparently, Assange would be so focused that hygiene fell to the bottom of his priorities. German actor Daniel Bruhl has his second leading role after his superb performance in Rush, and his Berg is a nerdy, idealistic, and focused. His German matter-of-factness helps balance Assange when he gets moody or temperamental.

The film has a great supporting cast, including Peter Capaldi (the newest Doctor Who), Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), and Alicia Vikander- who plays Daniel’s long-suffering girlfriend, Anke Domscheit.  Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci  and Anthony Mackie portray US State Department colleagues eager to preserve the safety of those mentioned in the now-infamous documents leaked by US Army private Bradley Manning.

Though this character isn’t nearly as fun and likeable as Sherlock, Cumberbatch fans will enjoy his work, as The Fifth Estate helps illuminate a revolutionary organization.

 

 

Contact Diane Cooney at dcooney@philly2philly.com

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Photo: HuffingtonPost.com