The assange adventures
Sep 26 2013
The Fifth Estate aims to explore the complexities of transparency in the information age
Co-produced by DreamWorks and Participant Media, The Fifth Estate stars Benedict Cumberbatch, best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on TV, as Julian Assange and Daniel Brühl as former Wikileaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg. The screenplay, by Josh Singer, is based on Domscheit-Berg’s book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website and WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy by David Leigh and Luke Harding.
Though unconfirmed by the studio, the title refers to the “alternative media” that has blossomed around the world in recent times — online bloggers and citizen journalists who believe they’re an alternative to the mainstream press.
Director Condon has a varied past—he shot into the limelight with biopics like Gods and Monsters and Kinsey, tread the Broadway path with Dreamgirls and finally explored the young-adult universe with the last two Twilight films. The Fifth Estate aims to “explore the complexities and challenges of transparency in the information age …and enliven and enrich the conversations WikiLeaks has already provoked”.
The Fifth Estate dips into Assange’s past — he was a hacker as a teenager, and became a computer programmer before founding WikiLeaks in 2006. In 2007, he meets fellow hacker-activist Domscheit-Berg (Brühl) in Berlin, and they become “an army of two”. However, as in The Social Network where fame ate away at the relationship between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and colleague Eduardo Saverin, the admiration soon turns to disillusionment. Despite that, Assange and WikiLeaks continue to notch up success after success, culminating in their biggest disclosure in 2010 of American intelligence: war logs from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and thousands of diplomatic cables. Assange’s pursuit of transparency at all costs (courage is contagious, he famously says), ends up alienating some of his most loyal supporters, including Bruhl.
Cumberbatch’s TV alter-ego is nowhere to be seen as he plays Assange – he has the long platinum blonde locks and Australian accent down pat, and tackles his mannerisms and quirks in a skilled manner.
Assange has described the screenplay as “serious propaganda attack on WikiLeaks and the integrity of its staff, as a ‘lie built upon a lie’”and as “fanning the flames for war on Iran”. Naturally, WikiLeaks does not stand by the film.
Incidentally, The Fifth Estate is one of three upcoming films based on Assange. If this one isn’t your cup of tea, wait for Alex Gibney’s documentary We Steal Secrets. Or else, an Assange-authorised documentary by Laura Poitras.