Who is the Fifth Estate? They are the watchdogs of the Free Society. DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment in association with Participant Media presents “Fifth Estate” an explosive, dramatic thriller based on the books “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website” by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and the Guardian book, “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by David Leigh and Luke Harding. WikiLeaks forever changed the game of news reporting by publicly exposing Top Secret corruption and corporate crime. I must admit. Like many, I was intrigued when I discovered that I had the opportunity to attend an advance screening of this gripping “political thriller.”
Executive Produced by Richard Sharkey, Paul Green, Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King; produced by Steve Golin and Michael Sugar; directed by Academy-award-winning filmmaker Bill Condon (“Gods and Monsters,” “Chicago,” “Dreamgirls,” “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Parts 1 and 2”) and scripted by Josh Singer (“West Wing” and “Law and Order”), “The Fifth Estate” explores the founding of WikiLeaks in 2006 as an upstart, Internet organization. It was originally formed to publish formerly secret, possibly provocative information from anonymous sources through their high-tech computer systems. Thus, the visually eye-catching film infuses a series of tweets, texts, and emails to further convey how WikiLeaks operates in real-time. Thanks to Condon, you feel like the fly on the wall, experiencing everyone’s conversation with the help of cinematographer Tobias Schliessler (“Dreamgirls”), globe-trotting from Belgium to Iceland to Germany.
WikiLeaks is operated by an eccentric, savvy hacker, as well as extraordinary mathematician, Julian Assange (brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch), who teams up with the German free-spirited, technology activist Daniel Domscheit-Berg (spot on dramatic flair by Daniel Brűhl). In this story of hero worship, we learn through glimpses that Assange was a lonely child who grew up in “The Family.” This is an Australian cult he was indoctrinated in with his mom that forced him to wear dyed white hair. He first started hacking into computers as a teen under the pseudonym, Mendax, where he was caught trying to crack into the Pentagon, but was spared by a judge. After devoting his university studies to pure math, physics, philosophy and cryptography, Assange traveled extensively before discovering his passion of fighting for social justice using cryptic coding.
Instantly, Domscheit-Berg idolizes Assange, his peculiar BFF in this gripping tale. Before working with Assange, the technology wizard was attending computer festivals and hanging out at Tildesley’s, an artist’s squat in Berlin. WikiLeaks is a shoestring internet startup that allows anonymous whistleblowers refuge for releasing covert government data. Once WikiLeaks starts gaining popularity i.e. notoriety, their sources become more secretive. At the same time, the news turns harder than legendary news agencies report, which often creates jealousy. By 2010, the worldwide governments are troubled, as Assange and his band of web renegades are hacking and cracking the most “unbreakable” codes, along with gaining access to highly-confidential, U.S. intelligence documents.
In 2010, Assange and Domscheit-Berg discover the largest cache of U.S. government files to become exposed – 251,287 classified cables from diplomatic missions worldwide, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, releasing these secret documents also means exposing the names of the anonymous whistleblowers. For Assange, it’s a no-brainer: This is their moment to break big with the help of “The Guardian” – a London, England newspaper and “The New York Times.” He says that there’s enough time to remove the anonymous sources. However, Domscheit-Berg, believes the story should be pulled due to lack of time. Far too many lives are at stake to release a leak of this scale. And this is the “digital divide” that breaks up the organization. After Assange prints the story with the names of whistleblowers, Domscheit-Berg no longer idolizes Assange, and goes to extreme measures to ensure no other leaks of this magnitude hit the press. To Domscheit-Berg’s dismay, best friends become sworn enemies.
Assange’s reputation as a game-changer in the world of hacking and delivering volatile, albeit ground-breaking information soared during this 2010 scandal. While WikiLeaks, as a foundation for allowing the dissemination of secret files was foolproof, Bradley Manning, the anonymous source and military member shocked the world when he bragged about his leaks in a chat room to a former hacker-turned-government informant. He was later arrested. Simultaneously, this leakage raised numerous questions surrounding whether this “Cablegate” broke any U.S. laws, and put the Constitution’s freedom of speech under question. I found this film thoroughly fascinating. If you’re interested in suspense, espionage and political thrillers, this film is for you!
The established press is referred to as the “Fourth Estate.” To some, our traditional press is financially tied to the elite and responds too slowly to breaking news and Social Media. Thus, many consider WikiLeaks the “Fifth Estate.” Here’s a breakdown of the estates:
The First Estate: Clergy/Government
The Second Estate: Nobility/Wealthy Elite
The Third Estate: Commoners/Workers
The Fourth Estate: Press/Media
The Fifth Estate: “Those who aim to keep the other estates in check, recently defined as whistleblowers, watchdogs, citizen journalists… and WikiLeaks,” according to Condon.
U.S. Release date: October 18, 2013
Running Time: 124 Minutes
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* Penny attended a screening of Fifth Estate.