Film: “The Fifth Estate”; Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Alicia Vikander, Carice van Houten, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci; Director: Bill Condon; Rating: ** – crumbles, disintegrates.
Director Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate” is a fine example of – power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely!
Welcome to “The Fifth Estate”- the new era of journalism, the era of the electronic media.
Based on two books by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, David Leigh and Luke Harding, this biopic documents the birth of information war and the scary heights investigative journalism has scaled between 2007 and 2010.
The film is about Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the Australian activist who founded WikiLeaks, his ego and the web of lies he weaves to expose the corruption and “power abusiveness” that plagues this generation! It is also about morality and integrity and discusses issues relating to “privacy for an individual and transparency for institutions.”
With the mantra, “You can change the world with great ideas, but you need people who are willing to put themselves on the line”, Assange takes on the onus to change the world.
He quotes Oscar Wilde, “Give a man a mask and he will speak the truth,” to justify his stance on founding WikiLeaks. He says to his colleague Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl), “find one moral man, a whistleblower and we can blow out corruption!”
Together, they start off modestly and gradually they grow with “10,000 hits per hour giving world news for free”.
Stories from WikiLeaks are picked up by the Guardian in Britain, The New York Times in the US and Der Spiegel in Germany and their releases are synchronised to have a global effect. Their exposes vary from political to financial to human rights across the globe in countries shaking governments and putting people’s life at stake for the larger good of the society.
Soon, Assange becomes a celebrity and is reckless in his disposition. Berg questions his scruples when he insists on releasing classified information on a platform that is easily accessible to public and the organisation crumbles.
By the end of the film, Assange absolves himself by saying something to the effect, my truth and your truth may not be the universal truth!
On the performance front, the actors essay their roles to perfection. Cumberbatch drives home the enigmatic and elusive trait of Assange to the core and Bruhl matches Cumberbatch’s histrionics at every step. The ladies don’t have much to offer.
Director Bill Condon’s film which begins with a blabber of voices layered over graphic and multi-frames of web net and overpowering background music is disorienting initially.
The non-realistic computer generated effects created to dramatise the climax, especially when Berg destroys the submission platform while recalling the numerous heads Assange personifies in the organisation, which made WikiLeaks appear like an enormous outsized organisation along with the shaky camera work and jerky jump edits, add to the woes of watching this epic.
The first and the last acts are hurriedly and chaotically edited. The scenes are put together taking you all over the place from Berlin to Paris to Stockholm to Kenya and Iceland covering all major political events during the said period. Yet the narration renders ineffective, as it does not strike an emotional chord. Assange is neither glorified as a hero, nor is he condemned as a villain.
Overall, “The Fifth Estate” is a badly executed film that crumbles and disintegrates, but nevertheless you might not regret watching it.