Susan Granger's review of 'The Fifth Estate'
Based on real events, this edgy, dramatic thriller exposes the deceptions, deceits and cyber-power wielded by Julian Assange, founder/creator of WikiLeaks.
The story begins when arrogant Australian anarchist Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who's determined to use his database to uncover corporate fraud and government corruption, is joined in this endeavor by an idealistic partner/assistant, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl). Railing against injustice, they bring down Swiss bank Julius Baer, display Kenyan death squads, disclose the identities of neo-Nazi British National Party members, and post a video illustrating how the murder of two Reuters journalists was covered up by U.S. troops in Iraq.
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But all that was minor compared with WikiLeaks' publication of Bradley Manning's theft of classified military documents and diplomatic cables from
-- a depiction of institutionalized violence that's been compared with the Pentagon Papers. Problem was: the WikiLeaks posting of unredacted names threatened the lives of loyal informers.
The title encompasses any digital-age communication group, including the blogosphere, in opposition to mainstream media: The First Estate refers to the clergy, The Second Estate to the nobility, The
Third Estate to the commoners and The Fourth Estate to the press.
Based on "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website" by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy" by David Leigh and Luke Harding, it's unevenly adapted by Josh Singer and erratically directed by Bill Condon ("Kinsey," "Gods and Monsters") with too little unbiased backstory and too much feverish frenzy. "The Social Network" was far more compelling.
Wearing a white/blond wig, British actor Cumberbatch (TV's "Sherlock Holmes") embodies megalomaniacal Assange's ruthless manipulation, while Bruhl (Niki Lauda in "Rush") serves as his rational counterpoint -- with Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and David Thewlis lending support.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Fifth Estate" is a chaotic, speculative 6, haphazardly revealing the state of 21st-century Internet journalism which, seemingly, lacks any semblance of accountability.