March 22, 2014 -- I finally got around to seeing “The Fifth Estate” last night, after having seen the excellent documentary, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks” in December. “The Fifth Estate” is a dramatization of what I saw in the documentary. It should be a compelling story, but is'nt. Instead, it is a depiction of scattered pieces of an overall story.
It seems what this movie tried to do is pull back the veil from the bland face of Julian Assange and expose the real person. This, it failed to do, settling instead for some hints and suggestions about what lies behind the mask of the founder of Wikileaks. The problem is that Assange appears to be a bland, inscrutable person, both in this film, and in the documentary. No filmmaker has lifted Assange's veil, yet. This film, unlike the documentary, makes the mistake of pretending to answer the riddle that is Julian Assange.
While Assange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch of “Star Trek: Into Darkness”) remains an enigma, his number one sidekick, Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl of “Rush”) takes the spotlight in this movie, because the movie is based, in part, on the real Daniel Domscheit-Berg's book, “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website.” Berg appears in the film as the voice of reason, a hero who tries to keep Assange from putting people's lives at stake.
Berg meets Assange at a computer conference and is swept up in Assange's vision of using the Internet to expose the darkest secrets that countries have. He only finds out later that Assange does not have “hundreds of volunteers” to help with Wikileaks -- it is just Assange and Berg. Later, a few other people help, but there are never really enough people to do the job of verifying, editing and redacting thousands of documents. Instead, Assange was essentially just dumping the documents onto the internet, exposing the names of informants to possible retaliation.
Assange defends his own actions in the movie, speaking directly to the audience and thus “breaking the fourth wall” of the movie. He says there was never any proof that any of his revelations harmed any of these informants. I did a bit of research on this claim. As far as I can tell, this is true. The film does attempt to show the effect of Wikileak's disclosures on one particular informant, Dr. Tarek Haliseh (played by Alexander Siddig of “Clash of the Titans”). I did some research on this, but did'nt find out if the character of Dr. Tarek Haliseh is based on a real person or not, or if he is, how close the portrayal is to reality.
In this film, Dr. Tarek Haliseh is a confidential source to the U.S. Government, and an old friend of a high administration official, Sarah Shaw (Laura Linney of “Hyde Park on the Hudson”). His secret is exposed by Wikileaks and he must flee to safety with is family. This appears to be yet another attempt to make the movie into a thriller, but it does'nt work. It is just another subplot that leads nowhere.
The film never succeeds in its quest to be a political thriller, a psychological drama, or even a historical drama. Director Bill Condon (“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2”) tries all sorts of cinematic tricks to add pizazz to the story. For instance, he uses a set that looks like it came out of Orson Welles' “The Trial” (an enormous office with many desks). He uses this to represent the structure of the Wikileaks organization. At one point, Berg, destroys a desk on this set, a symbolic act. Condon also uses some flashy graphics to show the flow of information, and he uses some flashy montages as well.
In the end, the film never seems to know what it wants to be, or where it is going with all of these gimmicks, gadgets and subplots. It ends up as a yawner, a thriller with no thrills, history without context. It has no good guys and no bad guys, either. This movie does'nt tell us much about Wikileaks or how it operated. For that, see the documentary. The acting in the film is quite good, even by some actors, like Stanley Tucci, who don't have much to do in the film, aside from looking pleasant, and looking bemused about it all. This film rates a C.
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