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Fifth Estate: A Review

I blogged on Tuesday about the current situation with Assange and while I was researching some of that it brought back to my memory the film hollywood decided to make on wikileaks and Assange last year. I happened to find it on Netflix and figured I’d finally watch it now that it wouldn’t directly result in more money for the makers.

fifth estate I won’t deny there was a small part of me that hoped Hollywood had done a good job of making this film and capturing the Australian behind Wikileaks in some kind of fair way, while rising above all the swirling propaganda and hate the US politicians were spouting because it was their secret crimes Wikileaks exposed, but I was quite quickly disappointed. Hollywood has bowed to the pressure and created a story so far gone I almost despaired and gave up watching.

The film’s plot is a bit like a bromance gone wrong. Daniel Domscheit-Berg quite quickly meets Assange, sticks him up on some Messiah-like pedestal and then gets pissed off when he falls off it, like any human probably would (because believe it or not we’re not gods and perfect) and betrays him.

Fifth Estate duoThe film is pretty much from the point of view of Daniel, and rarely focuses on the actual work of Wikileaks, which Assange has dedicated a large number of years to. The few times it does mention the leaks it shows the possible negatives of the information getting out into other people’s hands, including the US government scrambling to save sources in middle-eastern countries because their cover had been blown and not entirely succeeding (despite the fact that the pentagon declared that no lives had been put at risk by those cables in the real world). Very occasionally it showed some of the positive results of the leaks, but it mostly glossed over them and always had them on the back of the negatives as if it was a sort of after thought.

fifth estate Cumberbatch AssangeAbout half way through watching I found I had to grab my laptop and take a look at why Benedict Cumberbatch took this role. He’s an actor I have a lot of respect for, I love his Sherlock and many other characters, but this isn’t a performance I can respect him for. I soon found that he’d said this.

“I wanted to create a three-dimensional portrait of a man far more maligned in the tabloid press than he is in our film to remind people that he is not just the weird, white haired Australian dude wanted in Sweden, hiding in an embassy behind Harrods.”

The trouble is the film’s scenes didn’t allow Cumberbatch anything but making Assange look like the weird white haired Australian dude wanted in Sweden. About the only thing they got right was his looks. But the also obsessed over some really really stupid details.

Julian Assange August 2014Several times during the film, Assange’s character stopped ranting about something releveant to mention why his hair went white. This was done several times to Daniel with a different explanation each time. It reminded me of the joker played by Heath Ledger and how he explains the scars on his face several different ways. Right at the end of the film Daniel happens to tell a British reporter, who is also pissed off at Assange, that Assange dies his hair white, like this is some all important massive revelation on his character and life goals.

Who gives a rat’s ass why Assange has white hair? Why would you spend so much of a film’s time fixating on the colour of someone’s hair? Also, really? You want to tell me that the man is so completely fixated on his personal image of having white hair that in the photo to the right and up he’s dyed his hair and beard but not his moustache? I don’t know about any of you but the photo makes it look very much like the guy has just gone white (and in a very graceful and suave way, I might add) and his facial hair is still catching up a bit. You also only need to do a google images search on Assange to quickly notice that all the photos of him looking younger have a brown/sandy coloured hair and only the more recent ones have his stylish white, so it’s definitely not something he’s been doing since he was a teenager.

fifth estate assangeThis brings me to the very end of the film. I actually thought the film might redeem itself a little at the end. It had Cumberbatch facing the camera as if he was being interviewed and talking about all sorts of different things. After making a few odd comments about films about him and generally being a bit strange he started to make a speech that was actually quite good.

“If you want the truth, no one is going to tell you the truth, they’re going to tell you their version. So if you want the truth, you have to seek it out for yourself. In fact that’s where power lies, in your willingness to look beyond this story, any story. And as long as you keep searching, you are dangerous to them. That’s what they’re afraid of: you. It’s all about you.”

The bit above is awesome, it’s true and it’s wonderful, but then it’s ruined by seven little words they tag right after.

“And a little bit about me too.” Honestly! There are so many things wrong with this. Firstly, from a sotrytelling point of view, it’s unrealistic. No matter if someone might think this, they’ve never say it in a serious interview if they had a brain, and I think it’s clear Assange does. Secondly, it smacks of agenda, as a writer there’s no way I’d ruin the speech above with these words unless I really didn’t want you to believe them but actually hate the guy who said it. and thirdly, even if someone was this egotistical in actions, in real life people just don’t tend to think like that. For Assange to be doing what he’s doing with Wikileaks I’m sure he must have a strong conviction that he’s right about needing to get these secrets out there and protect people from the lies their governments are telling them. Someone like that doesn’t think these things, let alone say them. Even in the off chance that they act that arrogantly, it’s never a conscious thought.

So to sum up. The film sucks and I’m glad I never paid for it. but the one good thing I’ll quote again for emphasis.

“If you want the truth, no one is going to tell you the truth, they’re going to tell you their version. So if you want the truth, you have to seek it out for yourself. In fact that’s where power lies, in your willingness to look beyond this story, any story. And as long as you keep searching, you are dangerous to them. That’s what they’re afraid of: you. It’s all about you.”