Movie Review: The Fifth Estate

5 Min Read

Auruba Raki

The Fifth Estate is a biographical thriller film concerning the founder and editor-in-chief of the popularly controversial organisation called WikiLeaks, Julian Assange played by the talented Benedict Cumberbatch and former spokesperson, Daniel Domscheit-Berg played by Daniel Brühl.

Although the story sags a little at some places, it is exciting throughout and fuels your interest even more as it is based on true events. These events caused a ruckus in international diplomatic relations because of the news-leak organisation WikiLeaks.

The story follows Daniel Domscheit-Berg, previously working under the pseudonym Daniel Schmitt, as he gets involved with Assange who is portrayed to be a manipulative person driven chiefly by self-interests. Assange claims that their objective is transparency of administration and accountability of regimes while ensuring safety of the informants keeping them untraceable. However, his own organisation allows uninhibited flow of information without having to account to anyone, because as long as the sources did not break any law to collect the information for them to publish, there was no injunction the Supreme Court could not dissolve. That is what happens after the duo successfully uncover the illegal activities of a multi-million dollar private Swiss bank, Julius Baer. It motivates them to unleash government secrets across the world from verified unknown sources. This compels the tyrants to beware and governments to secure their treasury of classified information more cautiously.

At first, Daniel enjoys the work as he considers WikiLeaks to be a noble enterprise and Assange his mentor. However, as time passes, their relationship becomes strained as Daniel eventually realises Assange’s obstinacy to protect his own past and secrets, and selfish goals. Assange is shown to be not very concerned with the security of the sources, even exposing their lives at stake, with his obsession to reveal to the public what’s hidden under the carefully constructed mask of the governments. With major newspapers like the Guardian and the New York Times backing him up, he is considered a threat to national security.

Intensity reaches its peak when Bradley Manning leaks hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, including the “Collateral Murder” video of an airstrike in Baghdad, the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, and 251,287 US Diplomatic Cables. But the friction between Daniel and Julian only multiplies, as they don’t see eye to eye on the publishing of this new plethora of sensitive intelligence they came upon.

As thrilling as the film is, I personally do not approve of it because it shines the light on the “whistleblower” (It’s an interesting term. Look it up.) Julian Assange antagonistically. The most notorious transparency activist he may be, but he is not done justice in the film’s portrayal although Cumberbatch does an extraordinary job in his role. Assange did not approve of the script either and requested Cumberbatch to refuse the role. Cumberbatch tried to ameliorate the script with little success.

The movie can be considered propaganda even if there was no direct involvement on behalf of the government. By their own admission, the makers of the movie twisted real life events in order to manufacture a “balanced” story, i.e., to make the angle of US officials compelling, and Assange’s agenda selfish and inconsiderate. The movie doesn’t leave space for discussion, but distorts the historical, even present day, events with disinformation, omission of facts and misrepresentation of people. Touchstone pictures did not involve Julian Assange in their research, nor did they execute any of the script changes he insisted on. This dismal excuse of a movie is basically indoctrination against WikiLeaks and the philosophy it stands for. Even the objections raised by politicians and attachés as well as Daniel by the end of the movie are weak and pathetic.

I would only praise the movie for the superb acting on Benedict Cumberbatch’s part, and for providing an insight, spurious as it may be, into Julian Assange and his inclination to stubbornly bring about transparency to a world running on diabolic principles under the desk through a most essential organisation, WikiLeaks. The governments were feeding myths and whistleblower Julian Assange was equipped to debunk those.


Reviewer’s rating: 3.5/5

The reviewer is a part of the TDA Editorial Team.    

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