The Fifth Estate, which touches on the most notable leaks of the watchdog website WikiLeaks.org, asks a question about how information is disseminated to the masses or the “fifth estate.”
The fifth estate is used to describe a class of people with the clergy being the first estate, nobility second, middle class third, the press being the fourth and the general public the fifth.
In the film version of this phrase, special focus is placed on WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange (played by Sherlock Holmes’ Benedict Cumberbatch).
We, the audience, see things from the perspective of Assange’s first follower, Daniel Berg (Rush’s Daniel Bruhl). Bruhl also helps keep Assange grounded. According to the film, Assange’s kind of a nutcase on account of his mother moving him around so much as a child.
Screenwriter Josh Singer (with story help from the novels WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website by Daniel Domscheit and WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy by David Leigh and Luke Harding), at first, attempts to make the case that what Assange was doing with the information was noble.
Then ends his story, and Assange is portrayed as a villain, or I should say, just as bad as the corporate machine he always seeks to bring to justice. In terms of the story, it would seem that Assange is a manipulative, pathological liar who dyes his hair white.
Singer also shows us that our government has its good side and its ugly side. Fans of the ABC’s Scandal see things the US government does that aren’t pretty. Likewise, the corporations we give our money to sometimes use it for greed and ill-gotten gains. Such is the nature of a capitalist society.
The best quote in the film that sums up its central plot is when Assange tells Bruhl: “Two people and a secret are the beginnings of espionage and secrecy.” Well said, for something that isn’t a phenomenon, but a cry to the people to wake up and smell the bitter coffee.
On the directing front, Bill Condon uses his visuals as a way of showing differences of beliefs and thought processes (read: culture). The US is always seen as pristine and white-washed, save for the token black person (Anthony Mackie’s Sam Coulson, a White House rep).
The Middle East is seen as a lot of beige and brown and a little dirty. This begs the question: What is Condon trying to say?
Cumberbatch gives a rousing performance as Assange, whom the audience learns quickly not to trust. There’s always something he’s not telling his team. As his own secrets come to the surface, we trust Assange less.
Bruhl as Berg, trusted side-kick to Assange, tries to be the glue that holds WikiLeaks together, if only Julian weren’t trying to sabotage him at every turn with his own agenda.
The Fifth Estate is mainly told through Daniel’s point of view of events. One can’t help but wonder if Berg’s POV is a bit skewed, based on his obvious frustration with Assange’s antics. Then again, any sane person would be frustrated with Assange.
Laura Linney hams it up in this Oscar-bait film as CIA operative Sarah Shaw. She’s a strong character, so Linney’s attraction to the role is obvious. I just wish her character had more power. I know, I know. This is based on a real person, so the character has to be true to its inspiration.
White House rep Coulson is a different kind of role for Mackie in that there isn’t much he did with it. Mackie tends to go for memorable characters. (See Mackie as Adrian Doorbal in Pain & Gain and angel Harry Mitchell in The Adjustment Bureau).
Truth be told, The Fifth Estate attempts to open the eyes of the people WikiLeaks style. Our eyes are open; what now?
According to the film’s ending, we should grab our pitch forks and torches and storm the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange has diplomatic immunity. That’s where the real Assange is. Cumberbatch will be back to Sherlock Holmes duty soon.