Despite my initial plan to only watch it when it comes out on DVD, if at all, yesterday I went to the cinema and watched THE FIFTH ESTATE.

Let me start with something that might come as a big surprise *irony*: Benedict’s acting blew me away. I felt sympathy and compassion for a man who I don’t think is supposed to get it, at least not in that degree. Is that criticism of Ben’s portrayal of Julian Assange? Well, I suppose it could be. But then Ben has said in interviews that he wanted to show the human being Assange, and not just some egotistical lunatic. And before you scream and throw some stones (or cotton balls, your choice) at me, let me get into that a bit.
Before I went to see the movie, I did a bit of research. I read interviews, articles, Assange’s letter to Ben, and I watched interviews with Assange on YouTube. For one, this I think entitles me to say that Ben’s portrayal indeed was spot on – even if you don’t know Assange personally, you can see that he grabbed the essence of the man quite perfectly.
The other thing is that Assange did seem to be very self-centered, what brought me to the assessment above that he is a lunatic – sort of. There is great commitment to what he does, and it is without doubt admirable. Especially in the beginning is what he does for the good and it serves the good also. In a world of growing social gaps, power plays in combination with secrecy, corruption and lobbyism, trying to stop those who protect the rich and powerful – and their oftentimes questionable actions – is probably exactly what this world needs. This world and its politics are corrupt, and much more than Wikileaks is necessary to change that, but it is at least a start.
However, even though I’m saying that men like Assange are needed, I still see his ways of achieving what he does as not the best. I don’t believe in telling the blunt truth about everything, because some things the world mustn’t know as it isn’t able to understand it. That’s a fact, and also the reason why I don’t agree with referendums, for example; it is a fact that there is too much stupidity and disregard for the bigger picture in the world to get a sensible decision from everyone. It is also a fact that most people see the world in black and white, in good and bad. They never question one or the other once they’ve come to an opinion.
I’m not saying that politicians or anyone else who’s (financially) powerful enough to change something are capable of making decisions that concern us all. By far not. But then, I guess no one really is. In the end, Assange is not that much different from all those powerful people who rule this world in one way or another – his means are different, and of course his goal is a completely different one, but he is just as aggressive and focused on only what he thinks is right. I believe that this is true, no matter how much THE FIFTH ESTATE meddles with facts.
When it comes to those facts about Wikileaks, there is a very interesting article on Wikileaks depicting errors made by the movie. I know we’ll never know the truth; as many people as you ask, as many answer you’ll get. Wikileaks is no doubt interested in telling the truth, but that in a way it won’t harm them – just as everyone else does. If inconvenient facts from the movie were true, they sure wouldn’t go and say so; unless they find a way to do so in a manner that keeps them in the right light nevertheless. Full disclosure always only goes as far as one can keep their own credibility, therefore, and while I’m inclined to mostly believe what is stated on Wikileaks about the movie, I still don’t think it’s the whole truth.
But, let’s come back to the movie itself. THE FIFTH ESTATE is basically a reenactment; a documentary with real actors and actresses, and real scenes (and scenery). If it comes to what the movie is about, how the story is handled, maybe a documentary would have been better also.
The biggest problem, and the one thing that put me and my friend who I went with off was the fact that in these numerous scenes in Germany (and Switzerland) everyone speaks English. I get that for the Spiegel office when they were in (permanent) contact with The Guardian. But even here the editors spoke English; I mean, come on, Daniel and Anke did when they were alone! To me, to us, this had a very strange and unreal feeling (even more so in this party house), especially since some of them sounded quiet awful. To my mind it would have been better to have everyone speak in their language, communicate with each other in English when necessary, and solve the rest with subtitles.
The next problem is Daniel Brühl: He is not a good actor. Say whatever you will, but to me he is average at best. He came to fame when he played in internationally critically acclaimed GOODBYE LENIN, but that doesn’t make him any better. And to add insult to injury, they put him opposite Benedict, who is such an incredible actor that you need someone at least equally good, or good on different, but equal level (Rebecca Hall in PARADE’S END, Robert Carlyle in THE LAST ENEMY and of course Martin Freeman in SHERLOCK come to mind) to stand a chance – and Brühl is neither.
The rest of the cast is mostly okay. I loved seeing Alexander Siddig again, I really like him. Stanley Tucci is always a delight to watch; he and Laura Linney had great chemistry and made for some highly enjoyable scenes. Peter Capaldi got a bit lost, or maybe I was too tired already, lol. In any way is it always nice to see familiar faces, and there were quite a few of them in this movie.
One of my biggest weaknesses is that I’m always tempted to analyze relationships. Whenever, wherever, whoever – I always wonder about it. That goes for fiction just as much as it does for real life.
THE FIFTH ESTATE gives us an insight into the relationship between Assange and Berg, and I want to get into that a bit. I will, however, look at it only by what is to see in the movie. There’s no telling how much of it is true to the real life and events, because this is something I assume isn’t based on hard facts or thorough reports, like the rest of the story. In addition to that, Wikileaks states that Berg was only an averagely important volunteer, but by no means as close and important to Assange (and Wikileaks) as it is shown here.
Why I want to talk about this is because it irritated me. I wasn’t prepared to see anything in that regard; and yet I couldn’t help but notice, and notice a lot: There is this very intense connection between Berg and Assange. There were scenes where it outright jumped at me.
Now, I don’t know if this comes from Benedict’s ability to make every guy, as straight as he may ever be, gay for him (and we see Daniel Brühl rather than Berg) – but the admiration Berg showed towards Assange, and not only in the beginning, was extremely surprising to me. The last thing I expected of this movie was it displaying the character of the relationship between Berg and Assange, especially in such detail; it shouldn’t be important, not as much as it appears to be, and especially seeing that it obviously never happened like this. I don’t know if this was intentional, or just happened due to the way they told the story, with Assange and Berg working that closely together, but in any way gave it a feeling of something unfinished – and not thought through.
Mostly because – those two aren’t friends. I would never get the idea to see a friendship between them. Actually, I’m not sure if Assange has something like friends. The Assange we see in the movie is a disturbed, troubled man, highly egotistical and driven by his ‘mission’, if we can call it that. Berg is, like everyone else, only means to an end. Of course Assange trusts him (but does he really?), but that doesn’t make friends, not by far.
Nevertheless there was this… let’s call it tension, for the lack of a better word, between them, mostly from Berg’s side, but at some points from both of them towards the other, that didn’t come from any conflict, but from a profound connection they seemed to have (or were supposed to have, according to the movie). Contrary to this not being a friendship, it does have a feeling to it in some scenes, like when they travel through Europe to place servers in several cities. With the characterization made, I couldn’t even help but see similarities to SHERLOCK, with two characters connecting over this “us against the world” issue, and even more so when Anke said to Daniel that he is Julian’s moral compass. Maybe that’s the reason my mind went into another direction than probably intended by the producers, but in any way was this, to me, a very obvious and important part of the story.
Ultimately, THE FIFTH ESTATE makes for an interesting movie that sure encourages you to think and ask questions. It is important to approach it with the necessary distance, to not see it as law and truth, because, as explained above, I strongly assume that it isn’t. It is, however, a way to bring Wikileaks back to people’s mind – and even if it is considered bad publicity by Wikileaks and Assange, it is publicity. And if nothing else it’s what Wikileaks needs.

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Tags: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Fifth Estate, Wikleaks