Friday, October 18, 2013

"The Fifth Estate": the largest film so far about Wikileaks and Assange

The Fifth Estate” would logically comprise the blogosphere and social media, particularly when deployed, however by amateurs, well enough to reach a large audience and affect policy or possibly incite revolutions.  And the movie, of course, sees the site Wikileaks as the most influential “amateur” website ever created. The movie is based on two books.  One is Berg’s “Inside Wikileaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website” and the other is “Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by British Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding, and the screenplay was written by Josh Singer.

There have been a number of documentary films about Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and at least one film about the young Assange.
But the new film by Bill Condon, from Dreamworks with distribution by Disney Touchstone, is by far the largest film so far and the first with major Hollywood backing.  The focus of the film is the relationship between Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl), leading eventually to a rift after the release of the huge inventory of classified cables by Bradley Manning (aka Chelsea Manning), including a 40-minute video of “Collateral Murder” showing civilian journalists killed by friendly fire in Iraq by US helicopter forces.  Assange wanted to release everything unredacted, at least at first, where as Berg was sensitive to the idea that civilian sources in Afghanistan could be targeted by the enemy.
Cumberbatch’s performance overemphasizes Assange’s Australian accent.  
The film is somewhat choppy in narrative, moving quickly from one scene to the next and one city to another.  The film was shot on location in London, Berlin, Ghent, Antwerp, Iceland, Washington, and Kenya.  Many of the scenes are metaphorical, set up rather like on a stage play, as with a set of desks and computers in a huge warehouse without heat and snow on the floors.  There are many scenes at glitzy discos, bars, and celebrations, next to dingy quarters.  Assange and Berg can always open their laptops and get everything running in the most primitive settings. The style of filmmaking has been compared to that of “The Social Network” but the pace here is much more hurried and seems a bit random.
One aspect of Assange’s life is particularly interesting. He became a prodigious geek at a young age;  his curiosity and willingness to tinker with almost anything as a teen led to his extraordinary skill as an adult.  But he was also able to recruit others to his cause.  He was sometimes “homeless” and crashed in people’s homes for years.  It is this zeal and persistence in dealing with people that made his asymmetric site so effective.  Otherwise, he could still be in my shoes, as “just a blogger”.
The official Dreamworks site is here
I saw the film in a small auditorium at the Regal in Arlington VA, about half full.  A large screen is recommended. 

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