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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Fifth Estate

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Daniel Bruhl and Benedict Cumberbatch star in a scene from the movie "The Fifth Estate."
Even a masterful performance by one of its leads doesn't always make for a satisfying movie overall. And so it proves with "The Fifth Estate" (DreamWorks).

At the center of this fact-based drama, Benedict Cumberbatch turns in a splendid portrayal of Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. He skillfully captures both the charismatic and hostile aspects of his subject's enigmatic persona.

Yet director Bill Condon's picture as a whole only engrosses attention fitfully. In part, perhaps, that's because the story is told through the eyes of one of Assange's closest collaborators, German tech whiz Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl). Domscheit-Berg, who helped maintain the secrecy of his work by using the alias Daniel Schmitt, comes across as a far less compelling personality than his mentor—but not one ordinary enough to serve as an Everyman figure and guide.

On the plus side, weighty issues regarding free speech, personal privacy and public safety are raised and debated in screenwriter Josh Singer's script, which draws on both Domscheit-Berg's book "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website" and "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy" by David Leigh and Luke Harding.

Singer manages to elicit sympathy for Assange, moreover, by giving us a glimpse into his troubled childhood: His mother was drawn, through her boyfriend, into membership in an Australian cult called The Family. The sect is depicted here at least as fostering abusive treatment toward its adherents' children.

Despite these strong points, however, the proceedings are weighed down by an exaggerated sense of their own historical importance. Is WikiLeaks really ushering in an entirely new society? Is it a technological innovation so great that it ranks with the invention of movable print, as an opening montage suggests? Whether factual or otherwise, such claims make the film's tone sound, at times, either pompous or feverish.

The main personal conflict that arises for Domscheit-Berg because of the all-consuming demands Assange eventually places on him involves his relationship with his girlfriend Anke (Alicia Vikander). Though the two maintain separate dwellings, they are shown to be essentially living together, and a turning-point quarrel is touched off between them by the interruption of one of their sexual encounters.

Together with a short scene depicting a brutal shooting and the vulgar character of some of the dialogue, this domestic situation restricts the acceptable audience for "The Fifth Estate" to those mature viewers willing to overlook its shortcomings for the sake of a single memorable turn.

The film contains brief but intense violence with gore, cohabitation, semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, several uses of profanity, about a half-dozen rough terms and some crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Michael Giedroyc: A life of physical pain and mental torment didn’t prevent Michael Giedroyc from achieving holiness. 
<p>Born near Vilnius, Lithuania, Michael suffered from physical and permanent handicaps from birth. He was a dwarf who had the use of only one foot. Because of his delicate physical condition, his formal education was frequently interrupted. But over time, Michael showed special skills at metalwork. Working with bronze and silver, he created sacred vessels, including chalices.</p><p>He traveled to Kraków, Poland, where he joined the Augustinians. He received permission to live the life of a hermit in a cell adjoining the monastery. There Michael spent his days in prayer, fasted and abstained from all meat and lived to an old age. Though he knew the meaning of suffering throughout his years, his rich spiritual life brought him consolation. Michael’s long life ended in 1485 in Kraków.</p><p>Five hundred years later, Pope John Paul II visited the city and spoke to the faculty of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. The 15th century in Kraków, the pope said, was “the century of saints.” Among those he cited was Blessed Michael Giedroyc.</p> American Catholic Blog The French novelist Leon Bloy once said that there is only one tragedy in life: not to be a saint. It may be that God permits some suffering as the only way to wake someone from a dream of self-sufficiency and illusory happiness.

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