Review: The Fifth Estate

When offered the opportunity to see The Fifth Estate a few days early to review it, I jumped at the chance. I adore Benedict Cumberbatch, which actually made me think I might be a little bias about the film. Clearly bias wasn’t a problem since I can admit that I was actually a bit disappointed in its presentation.

fifth The Fifth Estate plays out the rise of Julian Assange and his website WikiLeaks, which infamously released sensitive government documents obtained from unnamed sources in their un-redacted form. From its early inception all the way up to the Bradley Manning leaks, the film explores not just the company itself, but the interpersonal relationships formed within and around the organization. Based on the book by Daniel Berg, an associate of Assange’s, the film seems to have a crisis of identity. It can’t quite make up its mind about what it truly thinks of Assange. Is he a hero or a villian? He is presented as both to an extreme at different points throughout. Perhaps if he had been written from a more neutral or less extreme stance, viewers would have the opportunity to judge for themselves. Assange is presented in such a schizophrenic fashion though, it’s difficult for anyone to come out of it with a clear idea or opinion of the man. The film does, however, effectively raise the question of the morality of the situation. Presenting the documents unedited while possibly endangering innocent lives versus editing them in order to protect those same lives is a tough question with no clean cut answer.

1374052532_the_fifth_estate-oo3Political dramas can be a tricky thing. By nature, they often cross into the territory of boring and the complexity of issues can be confusing for viewers if not delivered concisely. For me, it felt like the film assumed everyone would be well-versed on the entire chain of events already. I would categorize myself as being familiar with WikiLeaks saga; not completely educated but definitely not oblivious. I sometimes had a difficult time following the details of the events.

The film’s only saving grace is the performances. Cumberbatch is fantastic in his portrayal of Assange, accomplishing a certain level of mystery throughout despite the aforementioned flaw in how the character was written. Daniel Brühl is excellent as Berg, who is painted as an incredibly vulnerable man with a need to feel useful and accepted by those around him. And I was pleasantly surprised to see Alexander Siddig make an appearance alongside Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci, who are commanding in their roles as US politicians attempting to keep innocent lives from being lost as a result of the leaked information.

1374052809_the_fifth_estate-oo4 Ultimately, I feel as though the film didn’t have a clear vision in its execution of the political aspects, but I did enjoy the performances and portrayal of volatile relationships between the characters. To judge for yourself, see The Fifth Estate in theatres starting October 18th.

Grade: C

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