Friday, October 18, 2013


The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate official site At this moment, Edward Snowden gets temporary asylum in Russian; Chelsea Manning is sentenced to 35 years in a military prison; and Julian Assange is stranded in Ecuadorian Embassy in the United Kingdom. There are numerous compelling stories to tell about these government's worst nightmare creators. Yet, in his new film "The Fifth Estate" (USA 2012 | 128 min.), director Bill Condon manages to bore us by picking on a petty dispute between two center figures of WikiLeaks. The film's characters are disappointedly as elusive from us as they are from the government's pursuit. The off-putting focus also undermines the significance and importance of WikiLeaks' work which provides an invaluable service to the public.

The Fifth Estate refers to citizen journalism that is not part of the mainstream media. In this film, it specifically refers to WikiLeaks, an organization for whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning to upload classified documents. The film flashes back to 2007 when the brilliant hacker Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) first creates WikiLeaks. He meets another enthusiastic German hacker Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl). They begin to establish a platform, called WikiLeaks, for people to upload secret documents anonymously. Then WikiLeaks publishes them to the world, without any censorship.

After Chelsea Manning leaks a huge amount of war documents from the military and diplomatic cables from the US State Department, WikiLeaks collaborates with The Guardian and The New York Times to selectively publish these secret documents. That's when Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg begin to disagree on what WikiLeaks should publish. Instead of exploring deeper to these characters' philosophy or personalities, the film depicts the two protagonists like couple jealousy school boys who are having a fight after a quarrel during a recess. Although the film indeed includes some significant events such as the exposure of American's war crime for killing civilians in Afghanistan, it mainly chronicles on the falling out between Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, which might be the least interesting aspect surrounding WikiLeaks.

The Fifth Estate Official Site

Despite the flashy computer generated special effects, the hackers' laptop screens are anything but convincing. An episode about Egyptian's escape not only fails to add any thrilling moment to the film, but also it shows just how desperate the film attempts to make a bogus claim for the US government that WikiLeaks' work may cause harm to human lives.

Benedict Cumberbatch does look and sound like Julian Assange, but the crippled script doesn't allow him to go any further than that. Like other characters in the film, we only get to see and hear them, but hardly know any of them better. What's worse is that the film doesn't even try to motivate us to engage with these characters.

A pleasant surprise comes from few scenes with Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci as State Department officials discussing the ripple effects of leaked diplomatic cables. It would have been an amusing film if they were the protagonists and the story unfolded from their perspective, minus the Egyptian nonsense.

Julian Assange has publicly denounced the film. I don't blame him, because the film is partially based on a book by the very one he has a grudge against—Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Ops.

"The Fifth Estate," a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release, opens on Friday, October 18, 2013.

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