The Fifth Estate


‘The Fifth Estate’, based on two books by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and David Leigh, is the story of Julian Assange’s rise and of his somewhat peculiar working relationship with Berg, former spokesperson for WikiLeaks. Of course, included within, is a look into the global impact of WikiLeaks itself and all that governmental disapproval it’s since managed to amass.

Given the attention that’s surrounded Assange the last few years, a high profile film on the WikiLeak’s founder was always inevitable. For it, Bill Condon, famed for the likes of ‘Kinsey’ and dare I say, two of the Twilight movies, was given the reigns. His long time editor, Virginia Katz, keeps the cuts edgy and hurried straight from the opening scene. If only its plot structure and story could live up to all those impressively symbiotic technical aspects.

Music is one of the key driving forces behind ‘The Fifth Estate’. Carter Burwell, renowned for his work as long time Coen Brother’s collaborator provides an exciting modern score mined straight from the digital age. It grabs your attention and gives you the impression that something important is happening, that you are being privy to some secret being revealed, this even throughout the more mundane scenes. The problem is this constant suggestion of urgency ends up feeling jaded. It wasn’t long before I started to sense that the packaging was more than the content and that old cliché about that emperor and those new clothes of his had come to mind.

Daniel Brühl, an actor who’s being climbing high on the Hollywood ladder since starring in films such as ‘The Edukators’ and ‘Goodbye Lenin’ co-stars as Berg and provides a fine performance as the more reserved of the two men.  Though in truth, he ends up spending most of the time trying to hold back on the more renegade Assange, who is brought to us in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch. A fantastic actor in his own right, and one long overdue his place at the top of the billing, Cumberbatch plays Assange as an egocentric oddball maverick, cold and unflinching in the pursuit of his ideals. The wig though is perhaps even too much for an actor as talented as Cumberbatch to pull off with credibility. Elsewhere, solid support is given from the likes of David Thewlis, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci (always quietly impressive) and Peter Capaldi, who doesn’t have much to do but as ever demonstrates that uncanny ability of his to look busy at all times no matter what the scenario.

One of the problems of ‘The Fifth Estate’, as in so many other movies of this nature, is that in approaching such a serious biographical subject there is always going to be a pull between respecting the real life events, adhering to the source material, and ultimately making a movie that entertains. In the end, with so much content to juggle, the film seems cluttered and while it may provide some stimulating water cooler discussions, for all of its gloss, ‘The Fifth Estate’ is not quite as interesting as Julian Assange himself, who’s story is not yet finished and who will no doubt remain ‘a man of mystery’ for years to come.

Assange has since described the film as propaganda and ‘as lie upon lie’ but maybe that’s just a half-truth. Or maybe not, given that the film is based on two books written by people that have openly declared their grievances with him, perhaps we can believe Assange on this one. After all, he’s given us the truth in the past. Recommended only for those who have a strong interest in the subject matter.

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