WikiLeaks movie reveals more secrets than you'd think
By: Scott Hayes
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 19, 2013 06:00 am
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel BrŁhl, Jamie Blackley, David Thewlis, and Carice van Houten
Directed by Bill Condon
Runtime: 128 minutes
Now playing at Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre
We all know about WikiLeaks, right? If not, spend a few minutes on Wikipedia to get yourself up to speed. The renegade website has been publishing corporate and government secrets for years now. Lots of them. Seriously, this is something that everybody should know about by now.
The man behind WikiLeaks: Julian Assange, an Australian-born Internet activist who espouses freedom of information at all costs. The charismatic and egotistical man despises secrets yet seems to maintain a protective shroud of secrecy about his own life.
Once famously considered to be Australiaís most ethical computer hacker, he grew tired of a world run amok with deception and manipulation. He chose to fight the system in a very poignant way: by throwing open the floodgates to information. He created this website so that whistleblowers from all corners of the globe and all levels of power could reveal the awful truth and stay safe while doing so.
The problem is that heís kind of a jerk.
At least, this is how heís portrayed in director Bill Condonís The Fifth Estate, a movie that borrows its name from the historic notion of class that has the royalty in first place, nobility in second, commoners at third, and the press in fourth.
Bloggers exist on the fifth level.
The movie goes back to 2007 where Assange teams up with Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel BrŁhl) to give the power back to the people in the Internet Age. Their first big accomplishment is revealing illegal activities at a major Swiss bank. That leads to a major coup when an American soldier leaks a confidential video of an airstrike on civilians in Baghdad that killed two Reuters journalists. The leak also dealt with a vast collection of confidential American diplomatic cables, many of which were very sensitive and/or compromising.
Most of the plot in this movie revolves around how Assange and Domscheit-Berg wrestle intellectually over whether or not the cables should be published on the website. Journalist Nick Davies (David Thewlis) of The Guardian is also heavily involved. Itís a tÍte-ŗ-tÍte that teeter-totters between two wildly opposing positions. Donít we all desperately want to know the ins-and-outs of evil corporations and political offices? At the same time, what are the true human costs of such revelations?
The Fifth Estate doesnít come up with a pat answer for you and thank goodness. Itís a thinking personís film, one thatís constructed of dialogue and acting ability, with a healthy dose of theatricality. There are numerous brilliant points of dramatization that make the work feel like itís being staged as a play would. Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci round out the fine supporting cast.
The problem is that there is a price to the brilliance. We the viewers must sit through endless scenes of characters opening laptops quickly so that they can type frantic messages before quickly closing their laptops. There are amateurish montages and endless scrolls of tweets and texts that fill in gaps during scenes just to provide a claustrophobic atmosphere of data. The story is undeniably compelling but itís designed for a tech savvy audience. Characters seem to conduct lots of business in techno bars and many visuals demonstrate how electronic information runs our lives. Sure, thatís probably a realistic representation of things but if weíre taking artistic license with the true story, then why not make it a little less headache-inducing and a little less jarring to our eyes?
There is much to praise here, especially Cumberbatchís performance as an ignoble soldier with a noble cause. Pay attention, however, as much of his dialogue is unintelligible. Perhaps itís a fitting tribute to a man who seeks to reveal everyone elseís secrets. Assange might have accomplished more than a thousand Woodwards and Bernsteins ever could. Personally, however, he seems like someone who makes enemies easier than friends. Itís Domscheit-Berg who comes across as the true hero here, someone who can stand up to a dictator face to face and not just via email.