Fifth Estate, The

MPAA Rating: R

Entertainment: +2

Content: -3

The film about the controversial website WikiLeaks stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange and Daniel Brühl as Daniel Domscheit-Berg, as well as Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi, Dan Stevens, Alicia Vikander and Carice van Houten. Directed by Bill Condon.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Following Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Brühl), an early supporter and eventual colleague of Julian Assange (Cumberbatch), The Fifth Estate traces the heady, early days of WikiLeaks, culminating in the release of a series of controversial and history-changing information leaks. The website’s overnight success brought instant fame to its principal architects and transformed the flow of information to news media and the world at large.

Says director Bill Condon, “It may be decades before we understand the full impact of WikiLeaks and how it's revolutionized the spread of information. So this film won't claim any long view authority on its subject, or attempt any final judgment. We want to explore the complexities and challenges of transparency in the information age and, we hope, enliven and enrich the conversations WikiLeaks has already provoked.”

PREVIEW REVIEW: I consider Julian Assange to be a rat. But Hollywood doesn’t portray rats as rats in their movies, especially when the perceived rats are rebels, whistleblowers, or anybody who has a grievance against the American way. And even though this film presents Assange as self-centered, it’s a movie made by and starring liberal people who adore CNN, consider Fox News a joke, and like to be open-minded when it comes to revolutionaries, despite their rat-like ways.

From that declaration, you should be able to decide if this film will be your cup of tea.

But let’s put politics aside for a moment and look at the film from a creative viewpoint. Director Bill Condon uses every device known to the music-video age to make his subject and story hip and profound. And he might have pulled it off had he not let style rule over substance. The close-ups, the never steady Steady Cam, which gave me a headache, and the refusal to look at the downside of Assange’s treachery other than saying every five minutes, “We’re endangering lives,” betrayed the director’s lack of objectivity. We are only given hints as to the background and makeup of the lead characters, so if you feel you really know these men by film’s end, you’re probably really wrong.

The “If you have a message send a telegram” philosophy of movie-making does not apply today, especially to those with a liberal cause. And when it comes to the exploitation of Internet information, what moviemaker with a cause can resist? Had all this happened 30 years ago, this film would have starred Warren Beatty. And mind you, I’m not saying we don’t need people to expose wrongdoing in government. The world of politics, headed by men with egos larger than the heads on Rushmore, deserves scrutinizing. Some are completely mad. Others are incompetents. And still others use politics to get the upper hand, despite their usurping of Constitutional edits. But I won’t mention any names.

True, we are living in an era when computer hackers rule our lives; but the profundity of that horror is belittled by a filmmaker who is more about his style than our safety. That said, the film does beg the question, why do we feel safe Twittering our inner thoughts or banking online? The Fifth Estate indicates the ease with which criminals maneuver through the perceived well-guarded entries into corporate and personal privacy. This revelation suggests that it would be wiser to reveal nothing electronically and to stuff our loot between mattress and bedsprings.

It is also true that loyalties to any certain political party may be outdated due to the nightly news reaffirmation that our own nation’s leaders could best be described as the corrupt leading the inept. Therefore, I’d have to say that we do need whistleblowers to expose deception at the highest strata of political and economic authority. Alas, who knows the agenda of those doing the exposing? Since corruption knows no occupational boundaries, might the motives of those doing the unmasking also be suspect? In the film they are portrayed as men who lie in order to combat those who also lie. The filmmaker, himself, leaves out facts in order to make a more condensed or structured movie.

I keep coming back to the film’s one strength: it warns the world about its dependence upon electronic secrecy. There is none. Little Brother is watching all the time.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
DreamWorks Studios

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: None

Obscene Language: Around 30 obscenities, mostly a mix of the s- and f-words.

Profanity: Five or six profane uses of God’s name or Christ’s.

Violence: We see a close-up assassination of two men, the scene is sudden, jolting and bloody; there are other threats of violence which are somewhat unnerving.

Sex: There are a couple of sexual situations, but they are not graphic and there is no nudity.

Nudity: None

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: None

Drugs: Heavy drinking throughout.

Other: None

Running Time: 128 minutes
Intended Audience: Adults

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