Film review of ‘The Fifth Estate’ : As pointless as a film about Hitler’s vegetarianism
You are invited to witness the protracted labour and bloody birth of WikiLeaks – a website that has facilitated the release of thousands of top secret documents, by enabling whistle blowers and purveyors of injustice (or ‘terrorists’ depending on your leaning) to expose international wrong-doings within their organisations, anonymously. Leaving governmental reputations tarnished, corrupt police forces exposed and exploitative banking systems consigned to history, it is hard to believe that WikiLeaks was only founded in 2007.
The Fifth Estate wastes little time revealing its true agenda – it immediately sets to work belittling Julian Assange (a predictably brilliant Cumberbatch) in broad clumsy strokes. It makes for uncomfortable viewing, much like having dinner with friends who are in the midst of a marital breakdown and can’t help taking pot-shots at every opportunity. This is because the film’s protagonist, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Brühl), is what can be best be described, in the context of online activism, as a jilted lover. The story we’re watching is derived from Berg’s real-life account of a ‘bromance’ gone bad.
Assange could well be a domineering, lecherous and petulant control freak, but he’s undoubtedly many other things too. Given the global significance of their work, who cares about such a narrow, biased perspective? What should have been a side-note to the real focus has been over-inflated to fill the entire frame. There are several late attempts at commending Assange’s vision and scenes that try to address the ethical issues that lie at the heart of this debate – namely the danger of releasing certain documents in relation to the safety of certain individuals – but they feel woefully tacked-on and pay only a perfunctory lip service to all parties. This renders the film messy and unfocused.
The director, Bill Condon, previously wrote Chicago and was at the helm of the last two Twilight films, but he once made Gods & Monsters (1999), a small biopic on the director of Universal Studio’s Frankenstein (1931). There’s warmth and a careful eye for human truth in that film that is sorely lacking in the frenetic razzle-dazzle of this one.
The Fifth Estate (11)
Dir: Bill Condon; US thriller, 2013, 124 mins; Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Laura Linney
Premiered November 8