Film Review: The Fifth Estate

Reviewed by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl.

[Stars: 1.5/5]

The Fifth Estate covers what happened behind the scenes of news-leaking website WikiLeaks from 2007 to 2010. Julian Assange (Cumberbatch) teams up with journalist Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Brühl) and the website makes a major impact on a global scale. But their work together leads to a strained relationship and high pressure when Bradley Manning leaks thousands of US cables to WikiLeaks, leading to an ethical dilemma of how much information, if any, to publish.

Be warned that this film is based on a memoir of Domscheit-Berg’s: Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website. So this is a subjective retelling. I wasn’t completely aware of this until the end of the film, which answered my question of why the film spent more time on Daniel rather than Julian. And unfortunately Brühl’s take on the coattail-riding journalist is rather poor, which lets down the movie in a big way.

But there’s many more problems with this film. It suffers from an identity crisis: it doesn’t know if it’s a documentary or a drama. There’s a whole bunch of real news footage and articles mixed in with dramatisation. We see footage of news anchors from the time of the events, but the most realistic Assange we see is Cumberbatch donning a blonde wig. I would have believed the story more (even though it is a biased account) had I seen real vision of Assange from the news mixed in with the dramatisation.

The film also keeps taking us back to this metaphorical WikiLeaks room, containing infinite desks with computers and fluorescent lights dangling below the open sky. The problem is they do it to death to the point where you want to yell ‘We get it! It’s a representation!’ The Fifth Estate also lacks humour, warmth and it’s super preachy.

Despite its faults, The Fifth Estate is a film about truth, and exposing it for all to see. In the film, Assange quotes Oscar Wilde: ‘Give a man a mask, and he will tell you the truth.’ This is the WikiLeaks way, that informants are confidentially passing on highly secure documents without any risk of getting found out. They are protected by a mask, so tell the truth.

This reminded me about what Jesus says regarding the truth in John 8:30-32:

As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Here Jesus is addressing Jews who had decided to trust Jesus with their lives. But the important command here is that they need to continue trusting in his word. And if they do this, they will know the truth of the gospel, and this will set them free. Free from sin, free from religion, free from fear, guilt and shame.

The truth of Jesus is magnificent news that we need to be sharing with others, and we need no mask to do it. In fact, we should throw away our masks and boldly stand up for the truth of Jesus, and read and know his word.

There is irony that even though this film is about revealing the truth, Assange has criticised the screenplay as a ‘lie built upon a lie’.

If you’re really keen to see this, I’m going to suggest you hold on to your cash and wait to see this one on DVD or Blu-Ray. I’m giving The Fifth Estate one-and-a-half stars out of five.

The Fifth Estate is released in Australian cinemas this Thursday 14th November.

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