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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Fifth Estate | Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Anthony Mackie, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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The Fifth Estate | Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Anthony Mackie, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney | Review

During the 18th century, it was held that the first estate was the clergy (nowadays, watchdog groups) the second was the nobility (wealthy elite), the third were the commoners (general public), and the fourth was the press.

And then there’s Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) founder and editor-in-chief of the classified information and secret-blasting website WikiLeaks.  Together he and spokesperson/colleague Daniel Domsheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) and “hundreds of volunteers” – usually meaning ONLY he and Daniel Domsheit-Berg – reveal the inner workings of governments and big business through sensitive and inflammatory leaked information, the sources of which cannot be traced.

“Privacy for the individual, transparency for the corporation,” declares Assange and he lives it, carefully crafting his own mythology into that of moral host to a variety of anonymous whistle-blowers. An anti-diplomat, loath to redact any document, he chose instead to publish them whole and unedited. Often arrogant and rude, Assange could be admired without ever being liked, reaching either hero or villain status to some, but neither of those to many more, an ambivalence that cloaks him in controversy and contradiction.

Blowing the lid off an already overloaded pressure cooker was Private First Class Bradley Manning’s (now Chelsea Manning) transmission of government documents to WikiLeaks, in four categories: videos, incident reports from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, information on detainees at Guantanamo Bay and thousands of State Department cables.

Assange and Berg have ideological disagreements on how to disseminate the 251,000 cables and 91,000 Afghanistan war documents that name names and endanger operatives and civilians. Tensions within the tiny organization nearly destroy it.

Mid-level State Department personnel Sam Coulson (Anthony Mackie) James Boswell (Stanley Tucci) and Sarah Shaw (Laura Linney) employ diplomacy and official language to counteract some of the embarrassing and endangering revelations, dropping opaque curtains of damage control that WikiLeaks keeps raising.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the enigmatic Assange with restrained glee, apparently relishing the chance to embody the eccentric, frosty Aussie.  Daniel Brühl as the earnest, morals-and-ethics bedecked Berg is as cautious as Assange is fearless. A supporting cast that includes David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, and Carrie van Houten is crisp and sharp, playing off Assange as if enticed but repelled by him at the same time.

The film is based in part on Daniel Domscheit-Berg's book Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website, as well as WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy by British journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding, with a screenplay by Josh Singer (West Wing).

Director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) drops the viewer into the middle of the sometimes confusing events surrounding the operation of WikiLeaks and its creator, gradually unraveling a narrative that becomes clearer even as the quest for truth clouds over into uncertainty.

The real Julian Assange has called the film “a reactionary snoozefest that only the U.S. government could love.” Who is the liar when everyone has something to hide?  The Fifth Estate reveals the story but doesn’t pick a side, letting the subject matter and in this case, the subject, speak for itself.  Much like WikiLeaks.

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