"Behind the Headlines"
What You Need To Know:
THE FIFTH ESTATE is a historical drama about the creation and controversy surrounding the Internet website WikiLeaks and its founder. WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, came under fire in 2010 for exposing thousands of classified American documents and State Department cables. The story shows Julian teaming up with a German computer wizard to allow whistleblowers to anonymously upload secret documents about corporate corruption and government villainy. It also shows State Department officials trying to protect an important informant inside General Qaddafi’s government in Libya.
THE FIFTH ESTATE is a riveting, provocative drama, despite its left of center perspective and some factual problems. It features fine performances. Although the movie generates some honest questions about government power and secrecy, it comes at it from a humanist perspective. THE FIFTH ESTATE also has plenty of strong foul language and some promiscuity. So, extreme caution is advised. Ultimately, godless journalism without biblical ethics is not only morally and spiritually bankrupt, it’s also psychologically empty and false. THE FIFTH ESTATE does pose some moral questions worth considering, so it’s not a total waste.
(HH, PCPC, B, AP, P, Acap, LLL, V, S, N, A, D, M) Strong humanist worldview about two famous (or infamous) secular liberal Internet journalists who team up with two famous left-wing newspapers, but with some solid, thought-provoking moral elements discussing what’s right and wrong, true and false, prudent and imprudent within a dramatic setting, plus some Anti-American and Pro-American content/attitudes and some anti-capitalist content/attitudes; about 35 obscenities (including eight or so “f” words) seven strong profanities, and three light profanities; light violence includes threat of violence; implied fornication and promiscuity; brief upper male nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, being rude, man barges into friend’s apartment and is very rude to girlfriend to make her leave because he thinks she’s taking time away from their work, betrayal, man visits friend’s parents and suddenly walks out after lying to them about leaving to go to the bathroom.
THE FIFTH ESTATE is a historical drama about the creation and controversy surrounding WikiLeaks and its founder, who came under fire in 2010 for exposing thousands of classified American documents and State Department cables. It’s a riveting, provocative drama, despite its left of center perspective and some apparent factual problems.
The movie opens with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange meeting Daniel Berg, a young German computer wizard. Julian shows Daniel that his site is organized to protect whistleblowers around the world by letting them anonymously upload private and classified documents to the website. Daniel joins Julian’s efforts to expose a corrupt German bank that’s a tax haven and tax dodge for wealthy European companies, families and individuals.
As Julian and Daniel start breaking story after story through WikiLeaks, Julian suddenly comes into possession of thousand of classified American documents and U.S. State Department cables. They team up with the left-of-center “news” outlets The Guardian and the New York Times, but Julian is criticized by Daniel and their partners because he doesn’t want to eliminate the names of informants listed in the document. This causes a rift between Julian and Daniel. It also apparently puts some lives in danger, including an informant to the United States who’s working in Libya.
THE FIFTH ESTATE is very well made, with solid performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl as Julian Assange and Daniel Berg, respectively. Both actors make the professional and personal conflicts between the two men come alive. Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci as two State Department officials and Alecamnder Siddig as the Libyan informant also turn in fine performances.
The real Julian Assange has criticized the movie for presenting him in a bad light, but the movie’s ending gives Julian the last word, even though it also sides with Daniel Berg’s apparent view that Julian sometimes behaves recklessly, with no accountability. Julian character notes at the end that no one died because of the WikiLeaks release of American classified documents. Even if that’s true, however, that doesn’t mean that no one’s life wasn’t put in danger; and, this is exactly what the movie claims. Both claims can be true, of course, and this is what Movieguide®’s own minimal, preliminary research on the subject shows.
That said, THE FIFTH ESTATE has some important, provocative things to say about liberty, government power and the secretive nature of governments and large corporations looking to evade the law or violate civil rights. In the last scene, for example, the Julian character tells the audience that the new information age created by the Internet ultimately puts the power in the hands of the people who use the Internet. In effect, Julian tells the viewer, “It’s up to you to police governments and choose the good.”
It’s hard to argue with this argument. After all, God Himself asks all people everywhere to make a choice, to stand with Him and His righteousness, or not. Of course, THE FIFTH ESTATE doesn’t couch its arguments in such a religious context, even though the movie’s characters are often talking about what’s right and wrong, what’s true and not true. Thus, ultimately, neither Julian Assange, Danile Berg, nor the filmmakers behind THE FIFTH ESTATE (much less the writers and editors at The Guardian and the New York Times) go far enough in their quest for what’s true and false or what’s right and wrong. For example, why don’t they cover welfare fraud and the many moral failures of big government social programs with the same verve they do corporate corruption or American foreign policy? Thus, THE FIFTH ESTATE reflects the secular humanist, left-of-center politics that seem to infect WikiLeaks, the New York Times, The Guardian, and Hollywood. Godless journalism without biblical ethics is not only morally bankrupt and spiritually empty, it’s also psychologically empty and false.
Therefore, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution regarding THE FIFTH ESTATE, despite its positive qualities. The movie also contains plenty of strong foul language, including several “f” words and sacrilegious profanities, and some implied sexual promiscuity. This content also demands extreme caution.
Despite all this, however, THE FIFTH ESTATE poses some moral questions worth considering, so it’s not a total waste.