The Fifth Estate
By Renee Longstreet,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Confusing WikiLeaks docudrama mostly avoids iffy content.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Attempts to explore and balance the complex issue of transparency (the public's right to know) versus the necessity for government secrecy. Suggests that institutional corruption is common; it must be reported and the perpetrators held responsible for their actions. Questions the morality of hacking to secure crucial information. Contends that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Positive Role Models
Looks at the motivations of both whistleblowers and the mainstream media to show positive outcomes of their efforts as well as the danger of obsession and self-interest. Central character is portrayed as having good intentions initially, but losing sight of right and wrong as his influence grows. The other character (on whose book the movie is based) is shown as the most moral character. Strives for some fairness in its depiction of government officials and media personnel.
Violence & Scariness
Two men are killed by gunfire at point blank range while sitting in a car and the camera lingers on the bloody windshield. Video footage of soldiers killing civilians in a way that seems callous. Newsreel footage briefly shows rioting, police repression, beatings, effects of starvation. A tense series of scenes where it seems a man, woman, and baby might be in danger.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
An adult couple is shown kissing, beginning to undress, engaging in moderate foreplay in several scenes. They are also seen lying in bed together after sex.
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Some swearing and obscenities: numerous instances of "f--k," "s--t," "Goddamn," "hell." Also "a--hole" and "pr--k."
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Products & Purchases
A shot of a McDonald's franchise; World of Warcraft game is mentioned, as is WIRED magazine. Various actual newspapers, banks, organizations are included as part of the story.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults are seen drinking various alcoholic beverages in numerous settings: party, restaurants, at home, while working. A man is driving as he swigs from a bottle which may contain beer.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that most kids will have little interest in The Fifth Estate, a docudrama about WikiLeaks, its founder Julian Assange, and the release of classified government documents. The film deals with complex issues such as whistleblowing, privacy rights, hacking, and media responsibility. Hand-held camerawork, edgy fast-paced editing, and dizzying split-screen shots of computer data further speed up and confuse these already sophisticated concepts. Aside from the topics addressed, the main issues that might concern parents are the occasional but strong language (including multiple uses of "f--k" and "s--t") and the scene where two men are shot point blank in their car and the camera lingers on blood. There's also some passionate kissing between a couple and the implication of sex.
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The Fifth Estate
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What's the Story?
THE FIFTH ESTATE takes on WikiLeaks from its launch, as remembered by Daniel Berg whose split from Julian Assange, the whistleblower-founder, was explosive and complete. Though initially the website was devoted to exposing corruption and criminality (early subjects detailed in the film are Swiss bank Julius Baer, the Kenyan government, and the Icelandic financial crisis), the body of the film thrusts WikiLeaks' Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) into a battle with the United States over the release of a massive number of classified documents. Throughout the conflict, WikiLeaks' associate Berg (Daniel Bruhl) struggles to stay in a committed relationship with his girlfriend, to maintain his own sense of right and wrong, and to deal with Assange's increasingly maniacal egotism. When it becomes clear that the leaks will endanger operatives throughout the world, the stakes get higher and Berg, along with government officials and some members of the mainstream media, must take drastic steps.
Is It Any Good?
Admittedly, clarity is difficult when so much of the story depends upon on-screen computer data, hacking, and issues that cannot be immediately classified as black or white. Unfortunately, the filmmakers, led by director Bill Condon, have opted for a complex storytelling style, including rapid-fire editing, harsh angles, multiple split-screen sequences, visual metaphors, and other techniques that are designed to speed up and intensify audience reaction.
The result? Rather than simplify what is already a complex tale with crucial issues at its core, the film will probably turn off audiences with side stories designed to extrude emotion, but which just add to the haphazard narrative. Also, the movie will have little appeal for kids, even older ones, unless they are well-versed and interested in these true events. Alex Gibney's documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks offers a better and clearer look at Julian Assange and his operation.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can discuss the differences between docudramas and documentaries. How much truth do you think can be compromised in either type of film in order to make a movie entertaining or persuasive?
The source material is Daniel Berg's book "Inside WikiLeaks..." Why is important to know the origins of the film's point-of-view?
Find out more about the actual events depicted in this movie. What resources are available to you?
- In theaters: October 18, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: January 28, 2014
- Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis
- Director: Bill Condon
- Studio: DreamWorks
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 128 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some violence
- Last updated: April 9, 2023
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