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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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Apollonia: The persecution of Christians began in Alexandria during the reign of the Emperor Philip. The first victim of the pagan mob was an old man named Metrius, who was tortured and then stoned to death. The second person who refused to worship their false idols was a Christian woman named Quinta. Her words infuriated the mob and she was scourged and stoned. 
<p>While most of the Christians were fleeing the city, abandoning all their worldly possessions, an old deaconess, Apollonia, was seized. The crowds beat her, knocking out all of her teeth. Then they lit a large fire and threatened to throw her in it if she did not curse her God. She begged them to wait a moment, acting as if she was considering their requests. Instead, she jumped willingly into the flames and so suffered martyrdom.</p><p>There were many churches and altars dedicated to her. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists, and people suffering from toothache and other dental diseases often ask her intercession. She is pictured with a pair of pincers holding a tooth or with a golden tooth suspended from her necklace. St. Augustine explained her voluntary martyrdom as a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since no one is allowed to cause his or her own death.</p> American Catholic Blog We can find Christ among the despised, voiceless, and forgotten of the world. We have to move beyond that which we wish to ignore and forget about: embrace the seemingly un-embraceable, love the unlovable, and dare to know what we most fear and wish to leave unknowable.

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