Release: Friday, October 18, 2013
Yeah, thanks. . . thanks Bill Condon, if we wanted to sit through a lecture on information gathering in the digital age, we would (and a lot of us probably) have made tuition payments for school.
However, this is a movie and we want to be entertained as much as we desire to be informed; unfortunately though your work seems capable of handling only one of those — and that is to inform. Inform. Inform. Inform. Inform. Inform. Prepare to be drowned in informing, actually. This film feels more like a Powerpoint presentation than a creative device. And no, I’m going to try hard and not turn this ironically into a stern lecture on how NOT to make a movie (though I could).
What you are probably going to see a lot of, though, is me rehashing how I wish I hadn’t anticipated this release so much; a lot of reiterating how disappointing a film The Fifth Estate has turned out to be.
While anchored by two very likable actors in Benedict Cumberbatch (doing his best to approximate his unique physique to that of the real Australian hacker) and Daniel Brühl (a selling point for me personally having just seen him in the incredible race film, Rush) and being based on the real Daniel Berg’s book, titled ‘Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website,’ this movie seems to be hacked virtually from the get-go. The pace is slower than dial-up AOL and despite said cast even contributing earnest performances, what we’re given as the story behind Julian Assange and his controversial WikiLeaks webpage isn’t nearly substantial enough. It’s like ticking items off a grocery list, the way we move through several critical moments in his career.
I wish I hadn’t anticipated this film so much.
It’s always troubling in a movie when you find yourself sitting there, consciously picking out all the things on-screen that you saw potentially greater versions of. In this case, director Bill Condon (who is literally one hump away from having a terribly awkward surname) mismatches the talented Cumberbatch and Brühl with a lifeless script that gives only broad brushstrokes as to who the man behind WikiLeaks is; you could get the same information by checking him out on Wikipedia. (Wiki-whoops.) That said, though, the actors bring weight to some of the drama that occurs. Some, being a keyword.
A good deal of what comprises Condon’s data-heavy docudrama/biopic are partially edited recordings which were some of the major milestones in the WikiLeaks era. For example, videos you may have seen on YouTube countless times (depending on how quickly such material got blocked) will resurface again and again throughout the movie — footage of atrocities committed during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan; rare footage of the events of September 11, etc. Condon’s putting all of this information out there but there’s absolutely nothing being done with any of it. I understand its good to be objective on certain things, but there’s a difference between being neutral and distancing the audience.
Coupled with some very suspect editing and special effects from some 90s rock band music video, what should be a riveting and morally gouging narrative turns out to be a complete cock-up. I have no other words for it other than that. (Well, that and I’ve been waiting a long time to bust that word out.) What I deemed to be one of the year’s more intriguing stories (which is now only true in the theoretical) is steeped in amateurish filmmaking and this fact is simply exasperating. And even worse, I almost fell asleep twice throughout. I wish I hadn’t anticipated this film so much.
I don’t even concern myself with the fact that Assange himself considers the movie to be “fiction masquerading as fact.”
While the concept of ‘the fifth estate’ is indeed interesting, its significance to the film couldn’t be more contrived, as its explained away in a line of dialogue, rather than manifesting itself in the style and tone of the writing. Simply put, the term refers to the existence of a group of people who don’t affiliate themselves with any of the four other societal groupings (thinking about it historically, you have the first class “clergy,” second class “nobility,” third class “commoners,” and the fourth class “press.”)
As it pertains to the world now, Assange and his controversial site — where thousands of the planet’s best-kept secrets are made available to the internet-browsing public free of charge — would most definitely plead the fifth (estate). His nature epitomizes both the terms ‘loner’ and ‘enigmatic.’ He must be an incredibly difficult person to relate to, yet somehow Cumberbatch manages to portray him with an amazing confidence that is hard to ignore.
I also didn’t find Laura Linney to be all that terrible either, playing Sarah Shaw, a government official who represents those in high power who stand to lose quite a lot with all of this unearthing of secrets that pesky Assange has been doing. Linney’s given a considerable amount of screen time, and while she’s never been an actress I’ve been able to take seriously for even as long as a minute, here she seems more than capable of delivering the drama. She may not be half bad, but in a movie that is, she seemingly continues to be unable to catch a break. The same cannot be said for Anthony Mackie, however, who is plain awful in this movie and who I can’t wait to never see again in a major motion picture.
The most disappointing aspect to this film is the opportunity that is squandered to reveal an intriguing profile of one of the world’s most controversial figures. I mean, if it was tough then it’s going to be impossible now. Assange, seeking protection from being tried for treason among other crimes in various countries, has been hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, likely to remain there for the foreseeable future. His character will forever remain a mystery, since this film makes an attempt to characterize him but ultimately what it settles for are generalizations, cliches and generally menial statements on the nature of a globally-connected society.
To that end, The Fifth Estate comes across as nothing more than an obligation, an exercise. . .a data dump. Well, that and a film I wish I hadn’t anticipated so much.
Recommendation: This is probably the flattest and most uninspiring biopic I’ve seen. Very little about its material seemed to merit a major motion picture, and instead seemed to be simply a reason to put Cumberbatch in another lead role, which by no means is something I necessarily disapprove of. But if you want to get to know more about WikiLeaks, as well as the man behind it (good luck on that), you’d be best served by seeking out the documentary, We Steal Secrets. I’m probably not going to be the last to suggest this, either.
Running Time: 128 mins.
Quoted: “Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. But if you give him a mask, he will tell you the truth. Two people, and a secret: the beginning of all conspiracies. More people, and, more secrets. But if we could find one moral man, one whistle-blower. Someone willing to expose those secrets, that man can topple the most powerful and most repressive of regimes.”
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