MOVIE REVIEW : THE FIFTH ESTATE

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Like so many movies inspired by recent history, The Fifth Estate doesn’t reveal as much as it re-states. The structure seems slightly haphazard as the story depicts the rise of WikiLeaks, an obscure website run by Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch). A man with a strict code of conduct that includes promoting free speech (at all costs), demanding transparency from big companies, and protecting sources.

Initially, Assange is a heroic figure, a Robin Hood for the information age. Finding the task of running WikiLeaks to be too big for one person, Assange brings aboard Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl), whose book forms the basis of the movies screenplay. Together, Assange and Berg score their first big coup, the February 2008 revelations of illegal activities associated with the Swiss private banking group Julius Baer. Following that, the pair become involved in various games of cat-and-mouse with government and legal agencies that try (usually without success) to stop the release of “sensitive” information.

One of the aspects that I found problematic with the film was that it had no sense of commitment. Julian Assange and his quest are in the forefront, but Domscheit-Berg and others keep stepping in front of the big picture. When other characters get in the way, this blurs and diminishes Assange’s retrospective. And while the subplot of state department official Sarah Shaw (Laura Linney) and her relationship with Libyan informer Tarek Haliseh (Alexander Siddig) is supposed to show audiences a relatable, human example, it’s out of place and seems like leftover footage from Argo (2012).

Julian Assange has dismissed the film about his life as “lies”, but then again director Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate,” is halfhearted and slightly disjointed in its portrayal of a fascinating subject and equally fascinating character. But that doesn’t hold Benedict Cumberbatch back from delivering a knockout performance as Assange! This really is the year of Cumberbatch, who has stormed the big screen with “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “12 Years a Slave,” “August: Osage County” and the next installment of “The Hobbit”. His performance as Assange is alone reason enough to see The Fifth Estate. There are some lovely details to Cumberbatch’s acting: the constant touching of his face and hair as his nervy, fidgeting posture gesture towards his character’s obvious social difficulties.

I believe that there is a great detailed Julian Assange biopic to be made, as he is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic figures of the last couple of years. Like many “true story” movies of its kind, The Fifth Estate takes certain liberties in presenting a story in the most entertaining and commercial way. But for those unfamiliar with the history of WikiLeaks, The Fifth Estate is a decent and broad overview of major events with good performances by familiar faces. However disjointed the storytelling may be, if you want to get a good rundown of Wiki-leaks and the lasting effect its had on the world, The Fifth Estate may be intriguing enough.

My Rating: 6/10

By: Murteza Haider Aftab
Director – Cinematographer – Writer
CEO – Tez Aftab Productions

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