Friday, November 1, 2013

The Fifth Estate, a movie review

If you were nonplussed about Wikileaks and Julian Assange, you will not be after seeing The Fifth Estate. Unless you have been off the grid for the past several years or hiding in your bunker, you are familiar with Julian Assange (who is currently holding up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for fear of extradition) and his web site WikiLeaks, whose goal was to expose the deceptions and corruptions of power, no matter what collateral damage he brought with it. 

The story is old news, so this is not a spoiler. However, the details are frightening. I found this a tale of self absorbed evil, taking no prisoners - literally.

At first blush, this sounds like a David versus Goliath story. However, the tale takes an evil turn the more you get to know Assange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). As a computer wiz at coding he develops a system that allows whistle blowers to expose what they feel are abuses of power and government corruption without fear of being traced. He bursts on the scene as the leader of this large organization of coders who operate this website out to change the world.

He takes Daniel Berg (played by Daniel Bruhl), another brilliant coder, into his organization. Soon the wizard (of Oz) is revealed and Daniel finds there is no organization - Assange is a loner. And, his life is as eerie and blank as his white hair, white skin, and translucent blue eyes. Flash backs to his childhood in a cult hint of emotional issues. He has no apparent home or ties, he simply criss-crosses the globe, usually dressed in wrinkled clothes holding onto a backpack, the only possession we see. 

As the "leaks" get more dangerous, and Daniel and major news organizations, now working with him, try to get him to redact information to save lives, he persists. At this point you see (if you haven't already) that Julian Assange is an egotistical diabolical maniac with a mission that no one can stop. Suddenly, it is apparent, this is not about revealing corruption, this is personal, this is a power trip. And, it is all about him. He is in-sensed when anyone else is given credit for the website, the organization, or the leaks. 

The irony is that he is finally brought down, not by his web site, and the world wide destruction he brought to governments. For someone who has no personal relationships, it is sexual exploits with 14 year old Swiss girls that he initially denied knowing, that caught up with him. Yes, there were some things exposed that probably were for the best, but when lives of innocent people are put on the line, simply because one man thinks they expendable for his cause, I have issues. 

Men, like Assange, are what keep me up at night. They lurk in the digital darkness and are revealed only after their irrevocable damage is done. This is a true story of power gone mad.

Cumberbatch plays the role of Assange very well as an aloof anti-social misfit. Daniel Bruhl (also seen in Rush) is excellent as Daniel Berg, who at first is in awe of the master but his good conscience soon makes him realize the damage that is being done. Alicia Vikander plays Berg's girlfriend, the person in his life not taken in by Assange.

The 128 minutes is long, and drags a times. You know the beginning and the end when you enter the theater. The main characters are well played, but this is not Academy Award worthy. I'm glad I saw it, but given a choice of several films, this would not be top of my list. 

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