The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate movie poster

2013 thriller The Fifth Estate starring Benedict Cumberbatch

The Fifth Estate follows recent movies like The Social Network in that they are based on very recent events brought to the big screen.

Unlike The Social Network, however, The Fifth Estate seemed to lack focus, both in who the focus was and what the primary story being told was. Were we spotlighting the situation or the man behind it. Both are interesting in and of themselves but trying to do double duty is difficult – and in this case, didn’t compliment each other.

Benedict Cumberbatch is Julian Assange, now-famous founder of the news-leaks website Wikileaks. The story opens in 2010 before flashing back to 2007 to show us the foundation of how one of the world’s most influential websites came to be.

Assange partnered with online activist fanatic Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) who seems to be the grounding to Assange’s plans of absolute freedom of information. Their relationship gets rocky as they begin to disagree on what absolute freedom is and should be – and at what cost.

Aspects of the film begin to get too technical as we witness explanations for how some of the computer tech stuff works, while other times it seems they try too hard to dumb it down or, in one delivery, make it into a visual metaphor that is neither artistic nor helpful for a smooth telling of the story.

Parts of the situation feels trivial at times where the focus is on specific people and aspects that aren’t conducive to the story rather than putting the spotlight on more significant and harmful effects of Wikileaks. It was a big story in the news for months but the film missed the opportunity to provide an outside-in view of it, which would have given it a more epic, consequential feel.

The Social Network worked because it involved us in a way that made us see what the results were and how they affected us, but it was mostly about Mark Zuckerberg – the guy. The Fifth Estate juggles between telling the story of WikiLeaks and the story of Julian Assange. Furthermore, Assange often feels more like a supporting role to Daniel Domscheit-Berg – who becomes the rock of WikiLeaks.

Where The Fifth Estate lacks in building an emotional connection with the viewer, it makes up for in Benedict Cumberbatch’s brilliant performance. The potential of this film is its biggest loss as Cumberbatch could have easier taken this story and pushed it into the stratosphere much like Assange did for WikiLeaks.
Two stars

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