Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review: The Fifth Estate

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
I remember there being some discussion several years back about how effective a movie about people sitting around in front of computer screens would play for an audience. Of course, the movie in question at that time was David Fincher's "The Social Network," which was my favorite film of 2010 that went on to get robbed by the Academy Awards.

Now, we have Bill Condon's "The Fifth Estate," which tells the purportedly - and I say that due to its subject's insistence that it does not tell the full story - true story of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his squabbles with then-partner Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl). The film's subject matter is inherently interesting - and yet, the film feels as though we're watching people doing a lot of sitting in front of computer screens.

And whereas Mark Zuckerberg's alleged loneliness and outsider-ness made for a compelling psychological profile that drove Fincher's film, Assange's "back story," if you will, is not as convincing in explaining why he comes off as a well-intentioned egomaniac.

Part of the problem is that Assange is only marginally fleshed out and that the filmmakers have given just enough evidence for both sides of the argument on the man's worth that they appear to take no side at all. In other words, what do the writers and filmmakers think about Julian Assange? Yes, they make it clear that he's brilliant and, sure, he comes off as pompous and self important. But as to whether he should have leaked documents that put lives at risk, the film is frustratingly opaque. You could make cases for both sides of the argument, but this film does not.

That's not to say that "The Fifth Estate" is without its pleasures. Cumberbatch, who provided some solid supporting work in "12 Years a Slave," inhabits the man as well as the screenplay allows. And the subject matter itself is quite harrowing. And there's a subplot here involving Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci as Department of State workers attempting to handle the media following Assange's release of highly classified documents that is pretty interesting throughout.

But the picture could have been a whole lot more. "The Fifth Estate" poses some interesting questions on the state of 21st century journalism and what exactly is important for the public to know. But anyone can pose a question. It's making the case for your answer that tends to prove more riveting.

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