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The Fifth Estate

2013-12-13 12:28
the fifth estate
What it's about:

This dramatic thriller, based on real events, reveals the quest to expose the deceptions and corruptions of power that turned an Internet upstart into the 21st century’s most fiercely debated organisation.

What we thought:

At one point in The Fifth Estate, Julian Assange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is standing in front of a display showing a quote from L. Ron Hubbard: "The only way you can control people is to lie to them." Toward the end of this film, you may note how Assange, himself a self-proclaimed prophet of truth, is shown to be a practitioner of that very message.

The Fifth Estate feels like a sequel to or a relative of David Fincher's  2010 film, The Social Network. Like that film, it tells the story of technically gifted jerk who starts a website that has a profound effect on our world.

The film takes us through the early days of Wikileaks right up till the Bradley Manning controversy. It ends with Cumberbatch’s Assange speaking to the camera, having taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Now that precious secrets are no longer hidden away, he has to hide himself away. I guess that’s one of the many balances of the world we live in.

Director Bill Condon fashions the film like a thriller, which works really well come a pretty thrilling third act. He is aided by his leading man, who puts in a fine performance. Cumberbatch plays Assange as someone who is at times infuriatingly out of key with those around him, ruthless and manipulative, earnest in his mission while blessed with a charisma that helps him to draw others in.

The rest of the cast put in fine turns but Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci, both great actors, do feel wasted, while Daniel Bruhl as Assange's cohort Daniel Domscheit-Berg has little to do but deepen his frown as the film progresses.

I would have liked it if the film had looked at its characters beyond the plot points of the source material’s history. That might have lent it more depth.The film feels hemmed in by its fealty to the events it''s retelling, where it would have worked better taking some more dramatic license for the sake of its characters.

As it stands, The Fifth Estate is an interesting film, certainly watchable, but not much more than a handy précis of recent history, a sort of cinematic Cliff Notes. Like it’s main character, perhaps the real meat of the tale is still locked away.

You can’t expose the world’s secrets without exposing your own.

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