In the wake of the national security breach and controversy whether or not whistleblowers are deemed as heroes, headlining news is leaking onto the silver screen.
“The Fifth Estate” is a biographical drama based on the true events of WikiLeaks, a website designed around a platform that whistleblowers can expose secrets and classified information anonymously. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, editor-in-chief and founder of the website, and Daniel Brühl as Daniel Domscheit-Berg, WikiLeaks’ former spokesman. The film’s screenplay was adapted by Josh Singer, whose writing credits include “The West Wing” and “Fringe,” and was based in-part by Domscheit-Berg’s memoir “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website.”
From its launch in 2006 to present day with the releasing of more than 250,000 confidential documents from the United States, the film follows Assange and Domscheit-Berg’s journey into creating the secret publishing website. The film focus on Domscheit-Berg is just as important at understanding the creation of Wikileaks is with Assange. As the site becomes popular in the spotlight, Domscheit-Berg and Assange start to have a falling out, Assange’s ego to inflict with Domscheit-Berg’s desire to Cumberbatch’s command over the role as Assange is mesmerizing. He adds little details into the role that brings out a dimension to the character, picking up certain habits and traits Assange has such as his speech patterns, hand movements and the way he reacts to situations. That being said, the film paints Assange out to be egotistical and unsympathetic, stemming from an acclaimed traumatizing childhood. Despite the screenplays adaption, Cumberbatch transformation into Assange is Oscar worthy, his performance to mirror Assange in almost every aspect.
Throughout the film, there are many special effects that are used to drive a point. When Domscheit-Berg discovers that after their first leak that Assange is behind pseudo identities, we are taken to a hypothetical office with an endless sea of computer desks, Assange to be placed at all of them. This symbolizes the WikiLeaks organization’s “office.” This imagery is used throughout the film with both Assange and Domscheit-Berg working in the room and ultimately Domscheit-Berg destroying the room after a disagreement with releasing the U.S. documents. Although effective, I felt this imagery was out of place with the pacing and tone of the film. Understandably the film is following the guidelines of a show, not tell direction, but this aspect felt overdramatized and took away the intensity of the film.
I found the film to be hard to follow sometimes because in the 128-minute time span, there is a great deal of information and plot you have to absorb. Majority of the film is spent on WikiLeaks’ first airing of dirty laundry of the Julius Baer Group, a private Swiss banking group to the release of the “Collateral Murder” video in 2010. In between these two major instances in WikiLeaks’ history, the leaks it has released are briefly mentioned through showings of headlines of newspapers and news clips. Even though the movie can only show so much without drowning its audience, I left wanting to know more about these leaks just as much as the other two.
“The Fifth Estate” is set to release in theaters Friday.