Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Fifth Estate review

The term "fifth estate" stands for a group outside of the mainstream news media which is considered the fourth estate. This fifth estate is an independent form of news media. In this day and age, the fifth estate would constitute blogs and those individuals not associated with mainstream journalists. So it's appropriate when a movie was made about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that it be called "The Fifth Estate."

The Fifth Estate starts with a montage of how man reported the news. We went from handwriting to newspapers to television and finally to the Internet. It then starts as a flashback to 2007 when Julian Assange's (Benedict Cumberbatch) whistle blowing website WikiLeaks started to rev up. He meets and enlists the help of a young computer expert, Daniel Berg. (Daniel Bruhl) At the time, Assange is directly involved with confidential sources in Kenya who are disclosing wrongdoing within the national government. Later he and Berg start work on disclosing corruption in a Swiss bank. The WikiLeaks story leads to prosecutions. Wikileaks and Assange's reputation are solidified. But Assange has a fundamental rule. He refuses to redact sensitive information that could disclose informants leaked to him since it's editing and he would lose his objectivity. It's that idea that comes into conflict when Assange receives a ton of classified information from United States Army private Bradley Manning.

Director Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Kinsey) and screenwriter Josh Singer (The West Wing) have created a visually imaginative techno thriller. At times, The Fifth Estate features scenes of surrealism. The movie does lose some of its drive when it focuses on Berg's private life. That time could have been spent on better defining WikiLeaks triumph over the Swiss bank. That would have given the audience a more balanced view of Assange. Still, the film takes off once WikiLeaks publishes disturbing video of an Army helicopter attack that killed civilians. It hits its stride when Assange realizes that American intelligence is physically following him. While the film explores the good things that release of secret government information has such as exposing corruption and attrocites, it also shows that Assange's quest is blind when he exposes American informants whose lives could be put in danger.

As he was in Star Trek Into Darkness, Benedict Cumberbatch is simply brilliant. He's arrogant, egotistical and is righteous at the same time. Daniel Berg is also very good as the conflicted assistant. Laura Linney does a fine job conveying the American position as State Department official Sarah Shaw. And Alexder Siddig (Star Trek Deep Space 9's Dr. Bashir) realistically portrays fear as the exposed informant.

The Fifth Estate is not a perfect movie. It's much like Julian Assange himself. Only history will be able to cast the final judgment. My judgment is that The Fifth Estate is a thought provoking, well made film. The grade is A.

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