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article imageReview: ‘The Fifth Estate’ reawakens the call for truth Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Oct 21, 2013 in Entertainment
‘The Fifth Estate’ follows the real-life events that turned an Internet start-up into the world’s most debated organization.
In almost an instant all eyes around the globe were on Wikileaks and Julian Assange, the enigmatic man exposing corporate and government secrets. But little was known about the website’s origin or its founder’s motivations. With allegations of sexual assault confining the digital activist to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, it’s unlikely the public will see more than Assange’s virtual self for some time. In the meantime, The Fifth Estate attempts to go behind the curtain and uncover the mystery.
Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) began his journey as an elite hacker. Eventually he combined his skills with a conscience and began to infiltrate systems for the greater good. This led to the establishment of Wikileaks, a safe location for whistleblowers to submit their intelligence while protecting their identities. As the site publicized larger disclosures, it became increasingly difficult for Julian to manage alone. Face-to-face with admirer and fellow hacker Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl), he invites him into the fold. The two are inseparable until Daniel’s involvement appears to publicly overshadow Julian’s.
Returning to three years before the largest leak in the website’s history, Julian’s passion is what initially leaps off the screen. He believes he is facilitating the next level of investigative journalism, rekindling its mission to deal in truth. Daniel joins his “army” of volunteers to verify information and shelter their contacts. The details of how they do what they do is limited to layman’s terms, though a stimulating graphic representation provides greater insight. And a t-shirt bearing the logo of The Pirate Bay is a nod to their involvement with the site.
The visual depiction of the Wikileaks network is also appealing, conveying its ability to exist in any location and appear exponentially greater than it is in actuality. Montages transform otherwise menial tasks into important contributions to the information revolution. The opening sequence is the evolution of how news is delivered, from the first cave drawings to the printing press to television. There's an excitement to the idea of exposing wrongs and betrayals of public trust.
Even though director Bill Condon is applauding the purpose and success of Wikileaks, he's simultaneously criticizing Julian's approach that implies he feels accountable to no one. The release of the unedited "War Logs" is an example of his impaired decision-making skills as the inclusion of certain names may have caused those people considerable risk. But as one character says, "Only someone obsessed with their own secrets would reveal everyone else's."
While the facts are no doubt skewed for dramatic effect, Assange has condemned the film for selling outright lies; going as far as to publish a memo identifying the falsities. Nonetheless, this is an engaging portrayal of what will likely be a historical game changer in news and transparency.
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl and Carice van Houten
More about the fifth estate, Bill Condon, Benedict cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Laura Linney
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