Friday, 6 June 2014

The Fifth Estate

If Facebook was the most influential website of the 2000's, then surely Wikileaks can claim that of the 2010's. Headlined by Julian Assange, the website rose to near infamy in 2010 when it leaked a video entitled “Collateral Murder”.  The video, recorded from a AH-64 Apache in 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq, showed the killing of over a dozen innocents. The video caused an uproar across the globe, not only for the shocking and saddening content of the video, but also because the US government were going to great lengths to keep it hidden. The informant was eventually revealed to be Bradley Edward Manning, a United States Army soldier who has since been sentenced to 35 years in prison for the leak. While Wikileaks were active before this event, this was the big one, the event that brought Wikileaks into the light of day. While Wikileaks and Julian Assange still greatly divide opinions to this day, the idea of peering into the story behind the man is quite intriguing. Is it any good? Read on...

The Fifth Estate is directed by Bill Condon and is based upon two books; WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website and WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy. The film depicts the life thus far of Wikileaks, from its origins in 2007 between Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, up until 2012 when Assange found residency in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The film not only details the day-to-day life of the Wikileak founders and the great lengths they go to in order to release their various leaks, but also the ever growing tension between them. Wikileaks and Assange have publicly damned the film, and have called it nothing more than a “massive propaganda attack” and that it is “fanning the flames for war on Iran “. However, much like The Social Network, The Fifth Estate doesn't need to be accurate to be enjoyable. Don't get me wrong, while a real representation of such an important time in history is vital, this review is purely based on the entertainment value of The Fifth Estate, and not on its supposed inaccuracies.

I'm at odds with The Fifth Estate. On one hand the film is headlined by an absolutely superb cast, while on the other, and despite its utterly intriguing subject matter, it can be incredibly boring. The always-wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch plays Assange fantastically. From his nervous mannerisms, soft Australian accent to his impassioned speeches about the importance of Wikileaks, Cumberbatch perfectly embodies Assange to an almost creepy level. Cumberbatch is backed up by actor Daniel Brühl who plays Domscheit-Berg, Assange’s Wikileaks co-founder. Both of them are superb on screen together, and expertly convey two opposing sides as to what Wikileaks should be. The personal turmoil between Assange and Domscheit-Berg is the films strongest point, but this great dynamic often gets lost within the other, more political elements of the story. It reminded me of The Social Network quite a bit. That film was its best when it focused on the turbulent relationship between Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin, and it knew it. Unfortunately The Fifth Estate doesn't understand its most compelling aspect – the people!

As I said, as much as it should be intriguing, the real meat of the film just isn't that interesting. We've seen it all before quite frankly, and no matter what the subject matter is, I don't think any film can make the idea of uploading a file to the internet interesting, sexy or thrilling. It just plods along from scene to scene, occasionally focusing on Cumberbatch passionately reciting an Assange speech. It's not terrible by any means, but it just doesn't do a decent effort at grabbing the viewer. It's a real shame too, because the performances here are nothing short of impeccable, even if the subject matter of the film itself comes across as mundane and boring.

The Fifth Estate is a safe take on the history of Wikileaks, a film that merely comes across as if it took all of its information off the Wikileaks page on Wikipedia. It's worth a look if you're interested in Wikileaks, but even still it's a middle-of-the-road take on what is a spellbinding story.

The Fifth Estate isn't as explosive as it could have been and gets a 2/5.


Denis Murphy

The Fifth Estate at CeX

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