The Fifth (e)State

Triggered with lies, concealment, potential social disorders and unlawful behaviour, the Fifth Estate is an attempt of a close-up portrait of the controversial figure of the world-known information leaker Julian Assange.

Since the first classified data revelations in 2010, it was a matter of months when someone will try (and maybe succeed) to portray the authentic image of what is behind WikiLeaks.

© Copyright Dreamworks 2013
© Copyright Dreamworks 2013

After tackling vampires in two Twilight movies, Academy Award winner Bill Condon (Best Adapted Screenplay in 1999) took a challenge and brought us The Fifth Estate, a first feature film about Julian Assange, played by Sherlock’s star Benedict Cumberbatch.

Based on real events, depicted in two books about WikiLeaks, this drama-thriller follows lives and actions of Assange, Australian Internet activist and founder of WikiLeaks and Daniel Berg, German technology activist and former WikiLeaks’ spokesperson, wonderfully portrayed by Daniel Bruhl.

As depicted in the line from the film “Secrets are scars”, The Fifth Estate’s storyline is quite simple: After meeting Berg in Chaos Computer Club in 2007, Europe’s biggest association of hackers, Assange decides to reward his new friend by revealing his website where he releases information which are withheld from the public, while carefully retaining anonymity for its sources. While enjoying the role of Good Samaritan for the public, Berg transforms into a more conscientious person, constantly warned by his girlfriend that releasing classified data might not be a good choice. Animosity between Assange and Berg got its peak when Assange wanted to leak the documents about U.S. Army war logs, which Berg found inadequate without reviewing the data first.

Although it might be difficult for Sherlock’s fans to imagine Benedict Cumberbatch in this role, it is safe to say that these two characters have their similarities. Aside the different voice and posture, Cumberbatch borrows some elements from his detective role to define Assange’s depiction more vividly, such as: emotionless, potential jealousy, ego issues and incapability of facing ‘normal’ people (colorfully seen in the part of the movie when he’s having a dinner with Berg and his parents). However, day-to-day portrayal of Assange’s rise to Internet power as a data-revealing artisan expressed a new look on Cumberbatch and his acting potential. Even though we don’t quite see seriousness of devotion into the character in first 30 minutes, Cumberbatch’s facial expressions while mirroring Assange indeed managed to show how big WikiLeaks was to Assange himself.

In portraying Daniel Berg, Daniel Bruhl had an amazing performance from almost every possible aspect. Even in the moments when you expect Cumberbatch to shine, Bruhl steels it in a flash. However, positive chemistry between two of them helped filling some unnecessary echo through the movie.

Additionally, we must not forget the U.S. Government and their ‘soldiers’ in this issue, Laura Linney, with a fantastic supporting role and Stanley Tucci, who always manages to transform into different characters with such ease.

In this narrative filmmaking, packed with paranoia and manipulation, one of the most excellent things that neatly follows these elements is its soundtrack. Carter Burwell, American composer, who worked closely with directors such as Coen brothers, Julian Schnabel and Spike Jonze, composed an amazing list of tunes for the movie, combined brilliantly with Ninja Tune and Amon Tobin tracks.

However, Condon’s directorial had some ups and downs. While both of the editing, film and sound, were very respectable, some directorial outputs could have been more adequate. For example, when ‘we are’ in German weekly “Spiegel”, ‘we are’ in English language area. For more accurate exposé, in this occasion, German language area would be much more powerful. However, the most confusing directorial concept throughout the film was whether we are witnessing a portrayal of actions of WikiLeaks or Julian Assange himself. Or maybe both.

With a little bit of resonance of David Fincher’s “The Social Network”, The Fifth Estate perhaps lacks firmer and more sustainable context. Nevertheless, director’s shot in depicting these controversial events that surround WikiLeaks was admirable.


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