BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH DANIEL BRUHL DAVID THEWLIS LAURA LINNEY STANLEY TUCCI
The FIFTH ESTATE
Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey) is out of vampire territory now that the Twilight series has ended and it’s time to get back to real filmmaking, or so we thought. In my experience, a film that is heavy on facts, technical terms and backstory requires a certain auteur to deliver both the importance and the entertainment value to make the audience care to watch. Unfortunately, what at first-site seemed like an awards contender, especially for Cumberbatch who is everywhere and in everything, ended up more like last years Promised Land - a true story that no one cared about watching due to its dull nature.
When Daniel Berg (Bruhl) first met Julian Assange (Cumberbatch) in 1997 at a technology conference in Berlin he was introduced to a new way of reporting the news, exposing it for what it was. It was called WikiLeaks. Assange created a way for whistleblowers to expose governments, cover-ups, anything that the public should have knowledge about without a filter. Daniel joined the cause which became a crusade after they got worldwide attention for exposing communication with the US government and the military in Iraq among other things. Daniel becomes more concerned about the lives that will be put in danger by not redacting names in their stories, while Assange accuses him of betraying the organics of his cause.
There are tons of examples where this type of film making has worked and failed. Take David Fincher’s The Social Network for example. He found a way to make the story compelling, exciting and attainable, resulting in box office and awards praise, not to mention controversy. Recently, the film Jobs with Ashton Kutcher fell into the opposite side of the spectrum, lacking character development and the cinematic savvy to keep our interest among the extraneous amount of historical plot points. The Fifth Estate is the same; it fails to pick up on the real heart of the story, which was the battle between two men who ultimately wanted the same thing, but for different reasons.
The most interesting theme of the film is the ethics battle between the two in charge of WikiLeaks. Bruhl (Rush) gives another great performance here; however, I am not sold at all on Cumberbatch’s performance which is unnerving to watch for multiple reasons. The Fifth Estate’s biggest issue for me was the editing; there was never a clear or smooth path to get to the core of the story. So much information is thrown at the audience and the story never feels concise or important. In all fairness, the sloppy first half isn’t as bad as the second when Linney and Tucci have more screen time.
Final Thought – There is a breakdown between subject matter and cinematic creativity here.
Grade C By: Dustin Chase
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
The Fifth Estate is not the thought-provoking film I had expected; rather, it is chaotic, incoherent, and jerky—not just with the camera, but also in the dialog and visual display. Scenes of computer screens careen by at such a rapid rate they are impossible to really see. I get it—the purpose is to make the point of how interconnected the world is now, with its labyrinth of computer cables spanning the globe, but this could have been accomplished in a fraction of the frames presented. The background sounds and music are exaggerated renditions of what a computer sounds like when it is being used, with lots of clicks and whirrs. Once again, that is fine for a while, but grating on the nerves after a half-hour. I get the impression, the filmmakers were attempting to be artistic, using these computer sights and sounds as a metaphor for Julian Assange’s master plan, but to me it is overkill at the expense of audience comprehension.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange is a fine actor, but much of his conversation is garbled or mumbled, except when he is giving a public or private lecture. Then, he is very articulate, and tosses off maxims one after the other, implying that they are his personal code of ethics. The film is successful in showing what I presume is the actual narcissistic personality of Assange. He apparently cannot be bothered with the normal niceties of everyday life or care about others’ reactions to him. At the same time, he is something of a genius who has been instrumental in fundamental changes that have occurred in the world.
Particularly in the character Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl), we glean a picture of what most of the idealists involved in the Wikileaks project had in mind. He believes in transparency to uncover truths that need to be told, but recognizes the importance of boundaries that are set in the interest of protecting innocent people and the necessary operation of government. He appears to be as selfless as Assange is self-centered. And these contrasts probably constitute most of the value of The Fifth Estate.
In the last 20 minutes or so of the film, we get observations from the main characters involved that are more provocative about the issues Wikileaks had raised, such as mulling over the value of individual privacy versus the need for transparency in corporations and governments, and using the broadcast of information as a means of holding them accountable. It’s a pity that this is such a small part of the film.