Friday Features: 'The Fifth Estate' review

Friday Features: 'The Fifth Estate' review

Credit: Dreamworks Pictures

"The Fifth Estate" stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis, Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie and more. This film is rated R for language and some violence. Running time is 2 hours and 8 minutes.

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by HAYDEN PITTMAN

WFAA Special Contributor

Posted on February 1, 2014 at 1:37 AM

Now in theaters, director Bill Condon’s "The Fifth Estate," is a controversial, edgy thriller based on the infamous WikiLeaks, an online, global organization that releases news leaks and classified information through the use of anonymous sources while destroying government officials, collapsing large companies, and putting lives at risk in the process.

"The Fifth Estate" is a complex, high-tech, and thought provoking film, but it also appears to be a highly made-for-Hollywood, dramatic documentary. Additionally, it is confusing at times, occasionally sluggish, and overloaded with information.

Based upon the two books about his news-leaking website, "The Fifth Estate" follows WikiLeaks' creator, Julian Assange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) somewhat rebel-with-a-cause pursuit of open and free-flowing public information, as he takes on an anti-secrecy crusade for revealing the truth. After recruiting Daniel Domscheit-Berg (alias Daniel Schmitt), a German technology activist with similar aspirations, the two develop a system that allows inside sources to unidentifiably leak classified data, confidential government matters, corporate corruption, and more, without revealing the identify of the source of the information.

The film initially depicts what WikiLeaks is doing to be effective. While using a network of tech followers, often referred to in the movie as an “army,” they are able to expose serious business crimes and misconducts all around the world and gain more coverage than some of the major market media and news companies.

However, when they come across what is potentially the largest leak in U.S. intelligence, we begin to see the more-serious impacts of leaking this type of information. Assange and co. have to deal with death threats, possible capture or execution of U.S. international assets (spies), potential U.S. government or legal action, and more, and the effects and pressures continue to grow, forcing Assange and Schmitt to re-evaluate the worth of exposing life-threatening information.

The performance by Cumberbatch is undeniably a solid one, as he portrays a paranoid, deceptive, almost psychotic or schizophrenic-like computer tech that is hell-bent on exposing everything, no matter the consequences. Assange begins with the goal of bringing people to justice, but he quickly appears to get carried away and abuses this power.

There is a good amount of U.S. involvement - enter actors Laura Linney and Anthony Mackie as U.S. officials - and several military secrets exposed. It is interesting to see how the United States responds to WikiLeaks’ actions. The film uses a good amount of real life footage, TV news, and political broadcasts, for example, to give a more authentic feeling.

Unfortunately, "The Fifth Estate" falls short in a number of ways.

One of the most noticeable flaws was the sedated tone. Understandably, this film focuses heavily on the WikiLeaks’ specific activities, the effects they have, and the controversy surrounding these actions, but it is often times extremely slow and uneventful, making this two-hour film seem longer.

On top of the down tempo, the movie can be confusing at times, either because of the over abundance of information (too much, too fast) or because the film jumps around constantly from location to location, using a variety of video and voice communication systems for the characters to stay in touch.

Furthermore, this movie felt like it heavily relied upon the assumption that the audience already knew a great deal of the facts, and as a result, did a poor job of painting a clear picture of the events.

At the end of the day, there are just as many reasons to see this film as there are to ignore it. The content is quite fascinating, and the actions of an organization like WikiLeaks actually forces you to examine the reality of how badly does one really want to know all of the world’s secrets, what are the consequences of knowing this information, and to what lengths will people go to, not only expose information, but cover it up just as fiercely.

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding "The Fifth Estate," as the real life Assange himself has come out and described the film as “a project that vilifies and marginalizes a living political refugee to the benefit of an entrenched, corrupt and dangerous state." It’s not surprising that Assange discredits the movie, as it clearly paints him as a destructive, disturbed human being.

There are several other books that discuss WikiLeaks and many different opinions on the facts. Moviegoers must remember that "The Fifth Estate" is just a film and only a single interpretation.

Rated 3-out-of-5 stars.

"The Fifth Estate" stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis, Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie and more. This film is rated R for language and some violence. Running time is 2 hours and 8 minutes.


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Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment blogger out of Dallas. More of his content can be found on YouPlusDallas.com. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and hopes to pursue a future in filmmaking and screenwriting. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are straightforward and his way with words will let you know in a simple way what he thinks. Don’t like what he has to say? Let him know at haydenp@youplusmedia.com.

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