The Fifth Estate Reviews
WikiLeaks went online in 2007 and was the creation of one man, Australian computer hacker - turned activist and publisher Julian Assange. Benedict Cumberbatch does a remarkable job portraying the enigma that is Assange. In Cumberbatch's hands, Assange is a brilliant visionary... as well as arrogant, rude, manipulative, paranoid, self-righteous and definitely lacking in the social skills. He makes Apple Computers co-founder Steve Jobs look like a puppy dog. Daniel Bruehl plays Daniel Berg, a computer genius who hitches his wagon to Assange's rising star. Berg believes in Assange's goal of revealing the truth about powerful organizations, especially those corrupt, scandalous, embarrassing, or just uncomfortable truths which Assange, Berg and a small group of friends believe can make a difference if exposed to the light of day. Over time, however, Berg comes to see Assange for the man he really is and grows increasingly upset over what he sees as Assange's recklessness in publishing hundreds of thousands of leaked U.S. military and State Department documents and communications without redacting names and other information that, if made public, could endanger the lives of all kinds of people all over the world. That's where Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and Anthony Mackey come in, as government officials trying to limit the damage from WikiLeaks releasing the biggest treasure trove of documents the website (or any organization) has received from a single source. That source was former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, eventually convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other crimes and sentenced to 35 years in prison (and has since assumed the identity Chelsea Manning).
This should be seen as an important movie, regardless of one's opinion of the people and events portrayed. First off, WikiLeaks (along with the connections established among people around the world on social media websites) helped lead to the Arab Spring and other significant political changes in many different countries over the few years following Manning's actions. Secondly, whether you agree or disagree with Assange's approach to journalism (or whether you even consider him a journalist at all), this movie raises important questions that existed before the world even heard of Julian Assange, will exist into the foreseeable future, and may never go away. When does the freedom of the press enshrined in the U.S. Constitution conflict with the basic human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence? Is there any way to hold people who post news on the internet accountable without violating our most treasured freedoms? Where is the line between whistle-blower and traitor - and who decides where to draw that line? This film suggests the importance of asking all these questions and more without coming right out and asking them. This film also avoids suggesting that there are any easy answers. As entertainment, many will find "The Fifth Estate" a bit dry, a bit long or both. The director does his best to keep the film engaging by getting the best out of his talented cast, editing and scoring the film to create tension and using creative settings and camera work to represent certain concepts and events in the story. However, the real strength of this film is in its educational value and its ability to get the audience to think about some significant issues that face our country and our world - right now, today - and aren't going away any time soon. At the end of the day, isn't that one of the things that we want (and really need) movies to do - at least some of the time? That is a question that I think this film does answer and that answer is a resounding "yes"! For the significance of this film, its execution and its overall entertainment value, I give "The Fifth Estate" a "B".