Monday, 14 October 2013

Movie Review: The Fifth Estate

‘The Fifth Estate’ is a tricky movie to critique. It has a surplus of proven and talented actors with a story that could easily be a great thriller. The tricky part comes in when you examine the final product and find that despite all the components working satisfactorily, the whole thing is a bit of a plodding disappointment.

‘The Fifth Estate’ chronicles the rise of the Wikileaks organisation and that of its founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Assange’s friendship and eventual conflicts with his close partner Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) are also depicted as Assange attempts to set the truth free despite the moral issues of releasing government secrets that could potentially lead to the harm of innocents.

Assange and his colleagues look on in horror at the secrets they have uncovered.

The cast is led by a strong performance from Benedict Cumberbatch who succeeds in the role despite the fact that his portrayal of Assange is difficult to accept. In actuality Daniel Brühl leads the story though as his character Daniel Domscheit-Berg is essentially the viewfinder through which the audience experiences the film, Brühl’s performance is endearing in spite of some of the poor material he is given whilst his character’s primary function is as someone for Cumberbatch’s Assange to play off of. A host of top class British talent as well as some of America’s finest provide the supporting cast in the film, including Peter Capaldi, David Thewlis, Stanley Tucci and Anthony Mackie.

The recent nature of the events depicted in the film and the on-going saga of Wikileaks as a whole proves a different animal to film than the easiest comparison to this material, that of the story of Facebook in ‘The Social Network’, the already established backstory of Facebook in addition to the website’s more static residence in today’s world provides fodder for a tale with focus and clarification. This is where ‘The Fifth Estate’ struggles as it fails to grasp the direction of the story it is telling by frequently winding up with disjointed accounts of Wikileaks’ rise to prominence. Interesting vignettes they may be but they ultimately feature no real affect on the impact of the film as a whole.

Certain sections of the film, in particular some of the later scenes, show the promise I expected of ‘The Fifth Estate’ from the very beginning. These scenes capitalise on the previously built tension by handing Cumberbatch and Brühl ample opportunities to flesh out their relationship as characters in some appropriately heated moments. Unfortunately some terrible pacing swiftly dismisses the momentum accumulated in these impressive individual scenes and a plot structure that seems better suited to a documentary rather than a cinematic narrative proves difficult in selling a story that is based in fact. More’s the pity as ‘The Fifth Estate’ really does shine when it gets beyond its own inarticulate imperfections.

Even the United States government was unprepared for the capabilities of Wikileaks. 

The choice to focus the film on the character of Daniel is no doubt influenced by the fact that it is based in part on the real Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s own account of the events that took place. This sadly results in an incongruent side story being injected into the plot in the form of Daniel’s personal life and troubles. The real issue here is the fact that his own story lacks the intrigue that would surely be found in a further examination into the curious character of Julian Assange himself. This ultimately reflects one of my foremost problems with ‘The Fifth Estate’ as a whole, it abstains from a deeper examination of Assange, who is easily the most interesting and yet unexplored character in the story, in favour of a further elaboration on the effect Wikileaks has had upon the wider world. It was a bold decision for sure and certainly one that could have yielded a stronger, more respectable film had the script included the same intentions instead of some annoyingly sophomoric dialogue and rudimentary character development.

It’s obvious that ‘The Fifth Estate’ could have been a better film, a much better film at that. I suppose that’s what I really take issue with here, the talent assembled was very promising, and whilst most of them came through with their best, they were in the end hampered by a dull script and weak character development. If Wikileaks were to leak the secret of this film it would be this: great actors alone do not make a great movie.

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