Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: The Fifth Estate

Release date: October 18, 2013
Running time: 124 minutes
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Carice van Houten, Laura Linney, David Thewlis
Who to see it with: Someone curious about Wikileaks, or who likes political thrillers


The Fifth Estate gives a look into how Julian Assange (Cumberbatch) grew Wikileaks into a major media threat with the help of Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Brühl). Stories about controversial topics usually try to appear impartial but TFE generally seems to champion Wikileaks or, at least, its original intent. Any discussion of increasing transparency and breaking down communication walls are shown in positive lights, though it remains fairly neutral when covering the potential benefits versus danger related to the huge Bradley Manning leaks.

Assange is portrayed as an egocentric man with a mission, kind of like a more political Steve Jobs. Much time is spent on his work with Berg and the differing approaches that stress their relationship, possibly too much. Focusing on their turbulent relationship is slightly interesting, but a closer look at the inner workings of Wikileaks, its impact and side effects would have been more informative and captivating. In the end, you don't learn much about the men or Wikileaks. The film regularly employs unnecessarily fancy CG transitions to illustrate information's movement, and cuts to some weird metaphorical Wikileaks office to heavy-handedly display changes in Assange and Berg's relationship. I don't recall director Bill Condon being so unsubtle. The story and ending are unsatisfying, closing by oddly relaying controversial information about Assange. An uninformed person will likely get the wrong impression about him and Wikileaks' current state. The Fifth Estate provides a shallow look at Wikileaks, and its coverage of Assange and Berg's strained relationship doesn't give much insight into either man. You may be more satisfied by reading an in-depth article.

Don't see it.

I agree with pretty much everything Lee said about the mechanics of the movie. I didn't dislike the focus on Assange and Berg's relationship, because I thought it was pretty interesting, but I also wish they had focused more on the inner workings of Wikileaks, some of the technology behind it, and also given more context for its current state. I also wish the movie provided more backstory into Assange; there are pieces mentioned throughout the film but it's not enough to really understand who he is. The movie is very similar to another controversial, personality-focused movie that came out recently, Jobs. Like Jobs, TFE focuses too much on the characters and doesn't focus enough on the entity he built. And, similar to Ashton Kutcher in Jobs, Benedict Cumberbatch does a phenomenal job as Assange. He really transforms into the character and I can't think of many actors that could do it so convincingly. But unfortunately, like Jobs, the ending of TFE is unsatisfying. 

Rent it.

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