Review: The Fifth Estate
A chronicle of the rise of Julian Assange and his organization Wiki Leaks, from their idealistic beginnings through the leak of the Afghan War documents in 2010, the biggest such disclosure in American history. Recruiting a young idealist for his team, Assange offered a haven for whistleblowers, but would go on to face off against colleagues, major new organization, and the United States government.
Benedict Cumberbatch stares at the bleach-haired slithery Assange, while Daniel Brühl, most recently seen in Rush and looks completely different, is Assange’s dewy-eyed compatriot. Alicia Vikander is a love interest, but wasted, and Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci appear towards the end and are awesome.
The Fifth Estate feels like it should be written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher – but unfortunately it’s not. The filmmakers know it, and they try so hard to make it as good as The Social Network, a tremendous film that seemed to open the flood gates for these dramas that quickly turn around world and events. It’s still stylish and modestly engaging, but its geopolitical themes and the compelling figure at its centre would so benefit from a writing boost, one that stirs and challenges.
Two great performances keep this film riveting, one by Benedict Cumberbatch who disappears into the white-haired, slimy, methodical Julian Assange, and the other by Daniel Brühl, who plays Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a man who would be shunned by his colleague and go on to write a book about his experience.
The two meet just a few years before Assange and his group WikiLeaks releases the largest cache of wartime documents in what would be the biggest leak in American history. Assange, with his didactic speech and determination, charms Berg with idealistic thoughts of freedom and transparency.
Assange is fascinating: he is manipulative, monomaniacal, deranged, yet brilliant and possibly righteous, and Cumberbatch embraces all the layers, peeling them off slowly like an onion. Berg is more auspicious, and unlike the viewer, he doesn’t quite know how badly this is all going to turn out. Strangely, and perhaps to show off his idealist side, a completely arbitrary storyline follows Berg with his girlfriend (Vikander), a meandering diatribe that only detracts from the film.
It’s simply not as taut as it needs to be; it also doesn’t have a message. Assange is unnverving, but beyond that, there isn’t much more.
Conversations in the offices of The Guardian are most engaging, as are the ones between Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney, American officials who have to deal with the fallout. Those two, however, are brought in to the story just a bit too late.
It’s a good movie that could be great. It mindfully picks up the pace after cataloguing Wiki’s rise, and instead focuses on the massive imminent leak. It would seem to be important, though it’s hardly the definitive story. As a piece of dramatic filmmaking, it just doesn’t go deep and dark enough.
Should You See It?
This can wait to be seen, and if you’re a C’Batch or Brühl fan, well, there are plenty of other options currently out there. Or just watch The Social Network again.