A mysterious figure on a mission. Significant intrigue and danger. Globetrotting sets.
Are we looking at the fourth Bourne movie?
No, it’s the intriguing Wikileaks-based movie by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Chicago, last two Twilight movies), starring Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hobbit, Star Trek Into Darkness, 12 Years A Slave) as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. We see him primarily through the eyes of his first “disciple,” Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl, Rush), a reporter who seeks out Assange early on in the Wikileaks days out of admiration for his truth-telling work.
The film is different in that there are flashbacks, “fantasy” scenes, and straightforward action, interspersed with real-life news clips, interviews, and computer-generated interludes announcing time and place. When Cumberbatch is present, the camera is absolutely focused on his portrayal of Assange as an informational genius, albeit a mad one. Without Cumberbatch, we’re left on Bruhl, who plays Berg as the straight man and our narrative conscience (should we be doing this?) but it’s like watching The Great Gatsby without Gatsby. We’re intrigued by Assange’s quest, but how we feel about him… that’s confusing.
I’m not a real news-watcher or politico, and honestly, I probably wouldn’t have seen this if it hadn’t been for Cumberbatch, whose work I love in Sherlock. The story is intriguing though: what right does the public have to private information, held by corporations or governments? We’re in The East territory with internet “terrorists” here, but when the information isn’t just releasing innocents from hurt, but puts embedded government agents in danger, do the rules change?
Assange (as portrayed here) sees himself as a sort of informational Robin Hood, stealing from the powerful to enlighten the public/the poor of knowledge. But somewhere along the way, we see him lose sight of the mission. Is it the thrill of power or responsibility of the position? Is it the burden of genius? Is it the spiraling out of control of a life weighed down by a messed up childhood? What, in the end, has this cost Assange, or Berg?
While I didn’t find the movie particularly moving, and certainly don’t need to re-watch it, I was asked to question whether I have lost sight of the mission? Do I know why I do what I do? Does my church? Or have I become so caught up in doing what I’m doing that I’ve forgotten why I do it? Phil Vischer says that he lost sight of being with God while he was working for God (Veggietales). He’d lost sight of the mission’s purpose in the midst of the mission.
The Fifth Estate challenges us to not make the same mistakes Assange does: to not lose sight of the people in the midst of the mission, to not forget what really matters, to not lose ourselves in our work. If we’re going to remain true to the mission, we must remain true to ourselves first.
For another great look at the film, check out Steve Norton’s take here.