Fifth Estate: Bill Condon’s Chronicle of WikiLeaks Julian Assange

Despite its timeliness and intriguing premise, as conceived and directed by Bill Condon, The Fifth Estate, a chronicle of Julian Assange and his controversial website WikiLeaks, is a misfire.

Considering its subject matter, it had the potential of being something like The Social Network, David Fincher’s brilliant film. Instead, however, what we get is neither a compelling portrait of a singular individual, ambitious and driven to a fault, nor a satisfying chronicle of the broader socio-economic contexts in which WikiLeaks emerged and operated quite successfuy for a whie.

Bill Condon is an interesting director, who chooses in intelligent, often complex issues for his films (“Kinsey”), but there is always a gap between his films’ level of ambition and their level of execution.

It doesn’t help that the subject has been dealt before, in a clearer and more poignant way in Alex Gibney’s documentary, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.”

Claiming a pretentious title, “The Fifth Estate,” promises more than it can deliver. The screenplay by Josh Singer leaves much to be desired. Marred by a busy, cluttered narrative, the film relates huge amounts of information but it is ultimately shapeless (and not just because of the way the flashbacks are inserted), making it harder for viewers to get emotionally or intellectually involved with the tale or its personas. It’s too bad for the basic story itself could not have been more relevant to the way we live now.

“The Fifth Estate” world-premiering at the Toronto Film Fest to decidedly mixed response. Probelm is, that in today’s competitive movie market, “The Fifth Estate” is the kind of movie that depends on critical support.

The first moments try to convey the history of the news media, from the beginning all the way to the last decade’s Internet. The center (and most interesting sections) is set in October 2010, when WkiLeaks became a household name, a result of its earned fame and scandalous notoriety.

Riding high, Assange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) began leaked classified U.S. government documents. It is WikiLeaks, which exposed the American military role in killing civilians and journalists in Afghanistan. Other high-profile events include the ruling corruption in Kenya, the economic collapse of Iceland. Even more intriguing is the report of the Swiss bank Julius Baer, who provides tax dodge for wealthy clients.

A crucial chapter occurs in 2007, when Assange met German technology activist Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruehl), who became his committed and excited collaborator. It’s never adequately explained why and how a paranoid man of his stature and background would trust Domscheit-Berg?

The work and what it calls for takes a toll on the the German’s relationship with his girlfriend (Alicia Vikander). At first, it is shocking to realize that the Wiki operation was just a small website with some important emails. All that changes, when new forces join, including Daniel’s master-hacker friend Marcus (Moritz Bleibtreu) and the Icelandic Birgitta Jonsdottir (Carice van Houten).

Condon is good at depicting what could be called the new information war, or war over information, which calls for sspeed as well as inventive strategies in gettimng and releasing vital, often dangerous data. We observe how the aggressive Assange and his cohorts put all kinds of pressures on governments and private capitalistic corporations.

Since it’s well known fact reproted in the news, I am not spoiling anything by revealing that Assange is hiding at the London embassy of Equador, with many agencies and governments demanding his extradition.