We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013), and The Fifth Estate (2013) – reviewed by George

The first is a documentary, the second is a docu-drama. The second was easier for me to follow, but as a drama has it created that ease of understanding by flattening out a few of the bumps of truth along the way? I don’t know; I can only tell you that this is a very important story, with which you should be familiar, in either or both formats.
Both films make the same basic points: Julian Assange created a way for whistle-blowers to act (one hopes the whistle-blowers all had the best intentions and were always acting for the better good) to reveal facts that should be generally known by the very people government supposedly works for, regardless of which government that happened to be. Whistle-blowers also used the Wikileaks site Assange had created to reveal malfeasance at a European bank, bringing it down when the truth came out, and to expose illegal activities at several other non-governmental entities. Many powerful people regarded him as dangerous, if not to them specifically, at least to the status quo. His real problems began when a U.S. Army Private became a whistle-blower by dumping several hundred thousands of classified documents on the Wikileaks submission shelf. The need to redact the documents to avoid naming sources vs. the need to publish online before Wikileaks was taken down and its workers arrested, was the defining moral quandary. I will try to stifle mentioning other details of the story (stories), but I do urge you to see the film of your choice. One factor that may cause you to select the documentary is that the soundtrack of a crucial piece of video transmission is included, whereas the drama shows the piece without sound, perhaps because the sound is so disturbing. Also Private Manning is much more a figure in the documentary than in the drama.
In the docudrama Benedict Cumberbatch plays Julian, and Peter Capaldi (Dr. Who), Dan Stephens (Downton Abbey), and David Thewlis (Van Helsing) play reporters for The Guardian, while Anthony Mackey, Stanley Tucci, and Laura Linney play U.S. Government figures. The documentary of course uses photos, TV reports and interviews, radio commentary, and newspaper headlines.
In 2013 when the films were released Assange was still in asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

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