Cinema Review: The Fifth Estate


DIR: Bill Condon •  WRI: Josh Singer  • PRO: Steve Golin, Michael Sugar •  DOP: Tobias A. Schliessler • Ed: Virginia Katz  • MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Stanley Tucci

The Fifth Estate is a thriller trailing the rise of whistle blowing organization WikiLeaks and self-made media mogul Julian Assange. Assange is portrayed tenaciously by an ever invigorating Benedict Cumberbatch. While the material is ripe with political strife for a potentially sophisticated thriller dealing with the ethical debate between security and privacy this fails to be fully realized.

The film’s central character is Daniel Domscheit-Berg, played by Daniel Bruhel. Berg is the moral cornerstone of the film; he’s the somewhat credulous computer expert who befriends Assange and joins him in his quest for exposing the truth through WikiLeaks. The film presents Assange as Berg sees him. With Berg and Assanges partnership WikiLeaks blossoms into the international whistleblowing giant we now know. They expose multibillion banks engaged in fraud, government conspiracies and ignite global revolution and all seems hunky dory. However conflict arises between the two men when, as the stakes are raised and their notoriety increases, Berg begins to question the morality and ethics of exposing certain information. Berg feels that by not analysing the information properly they might be placing innocent individuals at risk. This reaches its climax when WikiLeaks releases thousands of top US security files including the “Collateral Murder” video. Shortly after this Berg and Assanges differences culminate in them parting ways for good.

The Fifth Estate undergoes the same pitfalls as so many true stories do, it endeavours to expose the truth and struggles in its effort to do so. There is nothing polarizing about the film’s point of view, this is a film with a very transparent agenda – it’s looking to permeate doubt and credibility in Julian Assange. This is affirmed by Assange being portrayed as an egocentric, anarchic, power hunger tyrant. While this might not be totally dismissible, it’s certainly not the entire truth, this angle is played up to its most extreme, engendering archetypal character clichés. Assange is made out to be quite childlike in his relationship with Berg, which again takes from the credibility and believability. This approach, while perhaps a little naïve, is brought to life by Cumberbatch’s powerful attuned performance, which is the film’s solitary redeeming feature. He gives Julian Assange a credible sense of menace and emotional complexity.

The film has a fantastic supporting cast in Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney, but they’re characters only service is to convey the American government’s stance, which leaves little elbow room for Tucci and Linney to develop the characters. These characters and their recurring presence seems the product of arbitrary, jaded screenwriting.  Ultimately, the film strives to be something it’s not, the fast-paced rhythmic editing and predominate pulsing beats of the electronic soundtrack are suggestive a slicker, cleverer film, which it simply isn’t. It’s like putting a Fiat engine in Porsche chassis – it looks cool but can’t do 0 to 60 in ten seconds. The shiny façade only seems to further diminish the film. Consequently, it’s difficult to feel concerned for the characters or engage in with the film, overall I found it quite underwhelming and doesn’t really rise above mediocrity.

The Fifth Estate certainly hasn’t left a lasting impression, and isn’t essential viewing unless of course for Cumberbatch’s performance, which really is the driving force of the film. Daniel Bruhel’s performance while not bad is far from the electric feats he’s displayed in the past. This is a film which could have been The Social Network meets All the Presidents Men. But ended up more like the very distant spurious cousin of the two. I have no doubt that Mr. Assange will join critics lambasting it for the self-riotous propaganda it is.

Michael Stephen Lee

15A (See IFCO for details)

127 mins
The Fifth Estate is released on 11th October 2013

The Fifth Estate – Official Website

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