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Review – The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate Poster

The Fifth Estate PosterWikiLeaks is nothing if not controversial, and that applies, perhaps, even more so to it’s founder, Julian Assange.  This is the second of two films this year – the first being the documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks – to peak behind the curtain of the online organization credited with publishing millions of secret and classified documents.

Based on the book Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website, by Daniel Berg, former WikiLeaks spokesperson and partner.  Told from the point of view of Berg (Daniel Brühl, who was recently seen in Rush), we are introduced to a brave new form of journalism in which anonymous sources are able to submit leaked documents for publishing on a platform accessible by all.  In theory, it is a safe haven for whistle blowers, moderated and promoted by the watchful Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch).  What starts as crucial component of modern society, dedicated to bringing wrong-doings to light quickly becomes dangerous as the unpoliced Assange decides what is published and how without regard to potential collateral damage.

It’s important to note that the real Assange has taken issue with this film’s portrayal of events, calling Berg a liar and the film a propaganda attack on him, his staff, and WikiLeaks as a whole.  As with any Hollywood interpretation of real events – especially with regards to something as controversial and secretive as this – it should probably be taken with a grain or two of salt.

Starting from the moment Berg meets Assange, the film travels the full length of their partnership, up until the point where they part ways on the most unfriendly of terms.  It’s an interesting story, and undoubtedly some of it is true.  The problem is, this film contributes almost nothing to the interestingness.  You could find out just as much, if not more about the colored history of WikiLeaks by perusing the internet for less time than it takes to get through this over-long film.

Ironically, for a film about a new modern age of online journalism, it feels immediately outdated.  The way it portrays the hacker community is cliched at best and perhaps even offensive at worst.  I can’t say that I have been to a hacker convention, but I have a feeling they are not reminiscent of raves.  Correct me if I’m wrong.  Even worst, however, is the onscreen portrayal of “the cloud.” though that’s not what it was called at that point in history.  The interconnected portion of cyberspace where WikiLeaks “lives” is shown as an endless office that looks like something out of The Matrix, with floors of sand and a ceiling of sky (complete with flourescent lighting suspended from the nonexistent ceiling).  It’s a hokey attempt at putting a physical facade onto cyberspace.  It reminds me of something out of Hackers, they early 90’s cyberpunk cheese fest, but not in a good way.

It’s only just over two hours but feels much longer.  The writing is stale, the visuals are outdated, the story fails to go anywhere significant beyond making the obvious surface points about privacy and consequence, and talent like Stanley Tucci and Anthony Mackie is wasted on small supporting roles.  Brühl’s performance is good, but he doesn’t have the benefit of portraying a character that is really that interesting or even likeable half the time. The one bright spot here is Cumberbatch.  Some people can’t act their way out of a paper bag.  Cumberbatch could portray that paper bag on film and still be mesmerizing.  His performance here is nothing short of genius and is probably his most nuanced yet.  He’s a joy to watch as he fully transforms himself into the controversial figure of Assange.  Sadly the rest of the film doesn’t live up to the same standards.

Mrs. Hamster did not attend this screening

My rating – Two out of five hats



The Fifth Estate leaks into 1,769 theaters Ocotber 18

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