By William Wolf


Although “The Fifth Estate,” a major attraction shown at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), is interesting because it is the story of Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks organization, it seems askew. The portrait of Assange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is that of an obnoxious egotist and somewhat loony operative with little regard for anyone else. Not knowing Assange, I don’t know how accurate the depiction is, but it seems so one-sided as to render the film not very useful in weighing the phenomenon of WikiLeaks itself.

The film is directed by Bill Condon and written by Josh Singer, based on the books “Inside WikiLeaks” by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and “WikiLeaks” by David Leigh and Luke Harding. Domscheit-Berg is in the film and played by Daniel Brühl as a disciple enamored of Assange at first, but gradually turning as he feels shunted aside and abused. It is largely through his vision that we are asked to judge Assange. The limited perspective is suspect.

Moreover, in an effort to depict the world of computers and their use, the film is awash with scenes and shots that can’t communicate much other than hectic use of equipment with a result that many of the messages being sent come across as gibberish. Far too much time is spent by the film in cyberspace.

However, what the project does achieve is dramatization of the effects of the disclosure of secret documents by WikiLeaks and the importance in revealing corrupt government activities. In that respect, Assange is a hero apart from what one may judge about his persona or motivations. As for other characters, always welcome Laura Linney is prominent playing Sarah Shaw, a diplomat worried about her work being compromised by the disclosures.

“The Fifth Estate,” meaning an additional kind of journalism of this era, delivers food for thought, but as biography stumbles in its overall hostility toward Mr. Assange as a person. A DreamWorks Pictures release. Reviewed October 18, 2013.


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