Assange has been holed up and granted diplomatic asylum inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London since July 2012. The British government intends to extradite Assange to Sweden, which Assange says may result in his subsequent extradition to the United States to face possible charges of treason.
How did the 42 year old Australian become an international criminal? After starting out as a computer hacker twenty years ago, Assange became a well-known programmer. Armed with programming and hacking skills, he developed an internet site wherein anonymous whistleblowers could place secret documents that would turn the world upside-down.
"The Fifth Estate" explores the moral and ethical dilemmas Assange and associate Daniel Berg faced as they distributed high level information leaked by whistleblowers. The movie shows how the two, together with their laptops, exposed illegal off-shore banking schemes, diplomatic correspondences, and became international transparency heroes. That was until Army staffer Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning) leaked secrets concerning the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars that were particularly damning to U.S. military forces.
That exposure was dubbed by lawmakers and media as treason - and Manning is serving 35 years in prison for his part in stealing the classified videos and documents. Federal lawmakers are pushing to punish Assange for revealing military secrets - so much so, conservative politico Mike Huckabee called for a death sentence for Assange and Sarah Palin called for him to be sought like Bin Laden.
Under Bill Condon's direction, "The Fifth Estate" moves fast and the script stays admirably politically balanced, even during scenes featuring Obama Administration officials. It is being boycotted by Assange haters. Even Assange himself did not want the film to be made.
Benedict Cumberbatch, who is excellent portraying the narcissistic and obsessive/compulsive Wiki-Leaks founder, reached out to Julian Assange himself for reference. Assange soundly rejected Cumberbatch.
"I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film," Assange wrote. "I do not believe it is going to be positive for me or the people I care about. I believe that it is going to be overwhelmingly negative for me and the people I care about. It is based on a deceitful book by someone who has a vendetta against me and my organisation."
"That person," Assange refers to is of course, Daniel Berg, the Wiki-leaks associate with whom Assange parted over a disagreement about how to expose highly classified information. Berg's book, titled WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website, may have heavily influenced the film's attitude.
The Fifth Estate links the public to insider information via internet investigative journalism and transparency. The other four estates - the government's three-pronged administrative, judicial and legislative system and traditional media - are ultimately accountable to the public through the easily-accessible Internet. This Fifth Estate will ultimately be the most powerful and effective of all, an editor from The Guardian says towards the end of the film.
Accountability, transparency and truth provided in the Fifth Estate will revive democracy and provide everyday people a voice and insight when the ruling insider class is determined to snuff out information to the average Americans. As one White House official says to another in the film about the reality of a web-based information war, "Welcome to the revolution."
So is Julian Assange a hero or a traitor? Anyone demanding the truth being exposed, national secrets be protected, and the political class be held accountable would have to conclude that Julian Assange is both - a hero and a traitor.
Unlike lots of conservative pundits, we heartifly recommend "The Fifth Estate" for mature teens and up - not to feed Assange's over-sized ego, but to open the public's eyes to unlimited information power and how, if used wisely, it can ultimately change the world. And how, if used wrongly, it can devastate civil discourse.
Welcome to the revolution.
Some language, some sex, no violence. 4 out of 5 stars for conservative libertarians.