Some key quotes from the film: 'a mad prophet who needs boundaries', 'a media empire that is accountable to no one', and Assange himself says at one stage 'I dangle at the edge of autism'. They are useful in helping the audience to assess Assange as a person, his personal relationships, his relationship with those who worked with him, his technical skills, the work of WikiLeaks, and the changes in attitude from 2007 to 2009. There is also a mention of 'ego'.
Already in 2012-2013, there were two films made about Assange. One was a television film, Underground, made in Australia by Robert Connolly, about Assange and his family life, and the initial hacking into official American sites. It ended when he was about 20. Then there was the extensive documentary by Alex Gibney, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. The Fifth Estate runs parallel to the Gibney documentary in its presentation of Assange.
The film opens in 2009 with the release of extensive documents which embarrassed many governments around the world, especially the United States, but also officials in such countries as Kenya, with stories of corruption and killings. The film then moves back to 2007, Assange and the beginnings of WikiLeaks, his attempts to make his work public, his finding Daniel Schmitt (in fact, Daniel Berg) who shared his idealism, worked constantly with him at great personal cost and financial cost in the early years of WikiLeaks.
Benedict Cumberbatch bears a significant resemblance to Assange and is made up accordingly, especially his white hair, which he makes something of in passing but which emerges as something the children in the sect to which he belonged as a child had to do. He is imperious in his manner, brooking no position opposition.
He severely lacks interpersonal skills, riding roughshod over people in word and manner. But he does persuade people to share his vision, to become volunteers, to staff the sites, to protect them, and so not reveal sources for WikiLeaks and the whistleblowing.
Daniel Bruehl is very good as Schmitt, serving as Assange’s anchor and checking fact and fiction. Moritz Bleibtreu is Marcus, friend of Schmitt, a hacking expert who is able to protect WikiLeaks. However, it is well known that Assange fell out with Schmitt, dismissing him, accusing him of disloyalty. Then, it was his Schmitt’s decision, along with his hacking friend, to close down WikiLeaks.
The film raises issues of ethics in publication, the need for truth, for honest expression, but with more nuances than Assange wants to think about. This brings him into conflict, not only with governments, but with some of the editors of the newspapers. He is warned that there will be publicity against him, all kinds of rumours circulated, and audiences are familiar with the accusations of sexual misconduct in Sweden.
The film ends with some discussion by the British about Assange, his ambitions, and the availability of all news instantly online, the new fifth estate. This is a film which will divide audiences- Peter Malone, ACOFB
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruehl, Morris Bleibtreu, Carice van Houten, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, David Thewlis, Dan Stevens, Peter Capaldi, Anthony Mackie.Directed by Bill Condon. 128 minutes. Rated M (Violence and coarse language).