The Fifth Estate

Director Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters (1998), which starred Ian McKellan, Brendan Fraser and Lynn Redgrave, was a sort of bio-pic about filmmaker James Whales' (Frankenstein) obsession and manipulation. Condon's latest film, The Fifth Estate, contains similar themes as it is a re-telling of  Julian Assange's founding of the Internet watchdog website WikiLeaks and its mission to present unedited documents regarding governmental and commercial corruption. An impressive though narcissistic Aussie, Assange (played by the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch) recruits a fellow disaffected hacker, German Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl of Rush), in his quest for domination of world news. Assange's claims to be the deliverer of a new form of web-based journalism (The Fifth Estate) that would speed the obsolescence of old school practices and liberate oppressed people around the globe -- something the mainstream media are either unable or unwilling to do -- draws many to him, including media powerhouses like The New York Times and The Guardian newspapers. It's the leaking of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cable messages and classified documents related to American operations in Afghanistan that seals Assange's fate as persona non grata and leads to his seeking asylum in an Ecuadorian embassy in London. (That and charges, which are not depicted in the film, that he sexually assaulted two women in Sweden.) The film is not completely satisfying because the intricacies of WikiLeaks' cyber-assault on corporate and governmental structures are truly byzantine. However, when Condon focuses on the relationship between Assange and his unwitting enabler Berg, the film becomes much more engaging.

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