During a pivotal speech in Bill Condon’s contentious film about the rise of WikiLeaks, founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) paraphrases the words of Oscar Wilde as justification for using whistleblowers to shame governments into transparency.
“Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth,” drawls Assange to a hall of potential acolytes. Whether there is absolute truth in The Fifth Estate is debatable. Based in part on Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s unflattering book Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website, Condon’s film has been denounced by the website, which insists “most of the events depicted never happened”. There are elements of The Fifth Estate that beggar belief, including the central relationship between Assange and Domscheit-Berg. On screen, the white-haired Australian founder is depicted as manipulative, self-serving and bullying. He treats everyone with lip-curling disdain which forces us to question why the two men would continue to work together when one is painted as a monster.