As soon as the movie gets rolling you will quickly get the sense you have seen this all before. To summarize quickly, The Fifth Estate is The Social Network with a more political agenda and serious undertone. Tuned off already? Don’t be. This may be a formula Hollywood has tested and found success over the years, but the film doesn’t necessarily feel entirely old and tired. It remains thought provoking whilst going from drama to suspense to a story we have all seen told before.
Not to make light over such a serious subject or a very current news event in our world, but there is something that The Fifth Estate doesn’t shy away from. Director and producer Bill Condon (Kinsley, Dreamgirls, The Twilight Saga: Break Dawn, Parts 1 and 2) admittedly explained that he and the producers wanted to create more of a sensationalized drama to really captivate the audience and bring a story focused on the larger themes, and a better narrative, to life.
The Fifth Estate is not a docudrama. Much of the film IS based off of two main books: “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website” by one of the men the film is about, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and the Guardian book “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by David Leigh and Luke Harding. These are books that are based off of direct relations with the WikiLeaks guru and creator Julian Assange, but they are just that; one side of the story.
The producers and writer Josh Singer (Fringe, The West Wing) knew just that and make no hidden agendas that this was all based off of true events. Instead they created something that is based more upon the greater theme of the relationships between WikiLeaks creator Julian Arrange and his volunteer and only friend Daniel Domscheit-Berg.
After a brief explanation of how these two came together, The Fifth Estate stays with a narrative more geared toward Daniel’s point of view while maintaining a little empathy toward Julian and his purpose of the site. They both care about privacy for the individual and transparency for organizations and government, but it is Julian’s lack of concern for the livelihood of the names mentioned in these documents that set Julian apart from Daniel and the rest of his recruits.
A wonderful aspect of this film is that I felt I was watching the real characters opposed to actors playing the role. This is supported by using people not heavily known by the masses and/or actors that portray a character that is far removed from themself. Julian Assange is portrayed by Star Trek’s Benedict Cumberbatch; an actor that I think many want to know more about, but really don’t know that much of as of yet. His near puppet at times, Daniel Domscheit-Berg is played by near-nominee Daniel Bruhl (Inglorious Bastards, Rush) and was a perfect choice for me.
First of all, Daniel is actually German therefore truly fitting the part. Secondly, I don’t think many will recognize him much allowing for the viewer to forget completely that it is indeed an actor portraying Berg. This was by far the best aspect of the film. Cumberbatch’s performance was more than stellar even with his fake Australian accent. Of course he being English does help a little. However, his sense of immense passion for his project brings this character to fruition. Every monologue and poetic statement he makes brings you closer to him whether or not you disagree in what he stands for, but it’s important that you can understand why he feels that way.
This may be a fault in this film though because it’s not necessarily a true portrayal of any of the characters. The trick will be if audience can separate what could be the truth from the story the filmmakers wanted to tell.
Many reviews will probably focus on the story of WikiLeaks and classified documents that were revealed along with creation of the software that came to be. While this is a vital part to the story, THIS story is really about their relationships and moral challenges they will face with the content that is submitted to them. I could go on and write my own novel just based off the productions notes, but I want to allow the movie to do this. Plus, I’m just not as savvy with the history of WikiLeaks that I’m sure many of you are.
The film does follow a timeline of events and deals with the consequences put forth by revealing these confidential documents that may cause harm or death to names involved. It really asks so many questions and dives deep into what is morally right. Luckily it really leaves the audience to decide what is right even though at times it appears to be heading down a very bias path, but then later catches back up telling a story from different points of views.
This brings other characters into play from other volunteers of WikiLeaks to the men and women trying to take the unstoppable site down. It brings into play how different news and information is spread in the world today and how the spread of news and information is nothing like it used to be. Julian created a submission platform where the contributor was protected bringing into play the quote “give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth”.
The U.S. response team was based on several U.S. government insiders: White House Deputy National Security Advisor Sam Coulson, played by Anthony Mackie; Under Secretary of State Sarah Shaw, played by three-time Academy Award nominee Laura Linney; and James Boswell, Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs, played by none other than Stanley Tucci.
The chemistry between Linney and Tucci is incredible and both seem believable yet relatable based off of the side of the story we have all seen from the American mass media. They even bring a bit comedy and light hearted subject matter to the movie with their little badgering.
No doubt The Fifth Estate brings phenomenal acting to the table and some powerful moments. The story is fascinating even though the relationship story is something we have seen portrayed in The Social Network, the creation of Apple, or the like. If you couldn’t care less about the story of WIkiLeaks and the people behind it, then this may not be the film for you. In fact, if you care more about the actual documents that were released, this film is not for that either. This film brings to attention the moral questions raised by the mission of WikiLeaks and focuses on how it got to where it is today.
There are many underlining concerns that come into play that really take hold of the last quarter of the film. I’m not even going to attempt to try to go through them all. However, there are many questions that are important even more so today with recent current events. The largest question remains who should be judge of which secrets we need to know and which are too dangerous to share? Bill Condon directs it well leaving these answers more or less up to the view rather than taking a political agenda and telling us what to think.
I was pleased with the The Fifth Estate and the story it told while not pretending to be something it’s not. The story flows even though many timespans are condensed or expanded. The art direction with the challenging task of making messaging on the screen intense and captivating is creative and smart. Even each shot is made more gorilla style with no blocking creating a more documentary feel to it while still having a look of a big-budget film. It was an enjoyable time at the movies and is subject matter that is quite intriguing. Just remember that this is just that, a film, a fictional film at that. Well, for the most part.