Truth obscured by Fiction

This is my review of The Fifth Estate [DVD].

Since the business of online leaking is in fact quite dry and technically beyond most of us, the film attempts to divert the audience with flashing computer screens of mumbo-jumbo and noisy gatherings of uncertain purpose while flitting frenetically between capitals to show the international scope of Assange's operation.

The "hero" and central figure in terms of viewpoint is not Assange but his former colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Drawing heavily on the latter's recent book, the film traces the course of his gradual alienation from admiration to bitter disenchantment over what is portrayed as Assange's capricious arrogance and narcissistic desire to control everything. The last straw for Domscheit-Berg seems to have been Assange's alleged cavalier attitude to protecting the anonymity and therefore safety of sources, to the extent of lying to obtain his agreement for the release of data to selected newspapers, but this important point is presented in too rushed a way for me to judge the justice of the charge.

I was left unsure what to believe and uneasy as to the truth and fairness of some of the attacks on Assange. For instance, he is portrayed as "borderline autistic" and psychologically damaged by childhood experiences, but how soundly based is this analysis? Although Benedict Cumberbatch puts in a compelling performance as Assange, and heads up a strong cast including David Thelwis, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and even Peter Capaldi (as a somewhat miscast Alan Rusbridger since it is impossible not to keep thinking of "The Thick of It" Malcolm Tucker) the actors seemed let down by the disjointed script and at times clumsy direction. It is implausible that so many hush-hush meetings should take place in bars or trains, all the while casting nervous glances at sinister onlookers, or that Assange would enter sensitive data on board a plane only to shout and hurl his PC around on receiving an unwelcome message. The film repeats too often the device of using a vast array of computers, at some times unmanned, at others operated by clones of Assange, to highlight the fact that what was virtually a one-man band could achieve so much. Also, surely Wikileaks must have involved a team of people, even if dominated by Assange?

In the case of Wikileaks and its founder Assange, truth seems more intriguing than fiction so that I realised too late that I would rather have watched a well-made documentary.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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