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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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