We like to think that whistleblowers are driven by noble intentions and a pure moral compass.
The truth is, many are malcontents who have their own agenda for leaking information, whether it's revenge, an effort to damage an opponent or just the schadenfreude that comes from watching the exposed squirm.
It doesn't make the information they expose any less accurate or vital, but it makes it more complicated when trying to label the players "heroes" and "villains."
It turns out that it's just as complicated when trying to label those who provide a conduit to whistleblowers.
As portrayed in "The Fifth Estate," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a fabulist, a man devoted to exposing the secrets of others while rigidly guarding his own and prone to self-promotion.
And screenwriter Josh Singer and director Bill Condon have turned the story of the website that exposed global secrets, including the U.S. military's actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, into a familiar Hollywood formula - the disciple who learns the person he idolizes isn't as noble as originally believed.
WHAT: "The Fifth Estate"
STARS: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, Peter Capaldi and Anthony Mackie
STORYLINE: A computer whiz and office drone join forces with Julian Assange to expand is secrets-revealing site WikiLeaks but starts to question his methods and motivations.
DIRECTOR: Bill Condon
RATING: R for language and some violence.
In this case, the disciple is Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who wrote the book on which the movie is based. Berg is a computer wiz and office drone who becomes enchanted with the globe-trotting Assange and his efforts to fight power brokers by exposing their secrets.
Berg's efforts help Assange expand WikiLeaks' infrastructure, which expands the impact of the secrets revealed. But the small chinks he sees in Assange's persona - the ever-changing biography, the claim of "hundreds of volunteers" turns out to be hundreds of fake email addresses to give the impression of an army of secret seekers - soon turn into gaping holes when Private Bradley Manning leaks classified military documents and a quarter-million diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.
Benedict Cumberbatch creates a fascinating Assange, a man full of contradictions. He craves the attention of the mainstream media while resenting the profits they make from reporting his website's information. He wants to bring down the powerful while pursuing his own form of power.
His performance is the main reason, sometimes the only reason, to see "The Fifth Estate."
The main problem that Singer and Condon never overcome is that the story they're telling isn't a particularly cinematic one. The story of WikiLeaks and Assange is more interesting than the Berg-Assange dynamic, but the WikiLeaks story is a bunch of people typing encrypted messages to each other on computers. And despite his best efforts, Condon doesn't make typing exciting.
Words appear on the screen in assorted ways, and Condon tries to put the viewer in the heads of Assange and Berg at various times. But there are long stretches filled with exposition and typing and no real dramatic tension.
If anything, the movie's best moment comes at the very end, an epilogue where Cumberbatch as Assange is commenting on the news that Berg's book is going to be made into a movie. There's a twisted self-awareness in that scene, a hint that "The Fifth Estate" might have worked better as an oddball biofilm in the vein of "The People Vs. Larry Flynt'' or "Man on the Moon" (about Andy Kaufman) than as a wannabe high-tech thriller.