Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"THE FIFTH ESTATE" (2013) Review

fifthestate


"THE FIFTH ESTATE" (2013) Review

The subject of WikiLeaks has been something of an conundrum for me. I have been aware of the series of news stories about the website and its founder and spokesperson, Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg. But I must be honest . . . my thoughts on the whole matter tend to disappear at least a few minutes after hearing or reading about it. So when news of a film about WikiLeaks was announced, I found myself surprised by the online reaction to the news. 

"THE FIFTH ESTATE" drew its title from a term that describes a group that operates outside of the society's normal groups, especially one that is considered beyond the restrictions or rules of those others. A "fifth estate" is strongly associated with journalists and media outlets viewed outside of or in opposition to the mainstream media or official press. This term could easily describe WikiLeaks, the Internet website and organization that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources. The movie, which is directed by Bill Condon, is based upon Domscheit-Berg's book "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website" and "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy" by journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding. Both were published in 2011. The movie follows the association between Assange and Domscheit-Berg, from their 2007 meeting at the Computer Chaos Club in Berlin to their estrangement over the Afghan War Logs. Judging from the movie's source of material, it is easy to see that the story is mainly told from Domscheit-Berg's point of view.

Is it a good movie? Many critics and filmgoers seem to believe otherwise. They directed their negative criticism toward Josh Singer's screenplay and Bill Condon's direction. In fact, many also believe it was a mistake for the movie to be told either from Domscheit-Berg's point of view or those in the U.S. intelligence service. I now feel they were right in regard to the movie's points-of-view. After all Assange proved to be the movie's main topic in the end. I now feel that "THE FIFTH ESTATE" would have benefited from balanced viewpoints of both Domscheit-Berg and Assange. There were a few other aspects of "THE FIFTH ESTATE" I found a little troubling. There were moments when I could not ascertain some of the dialogue. I do not if this was due to the movie theater's sound system or the performances in the film. "THE FIFTH ESTATE" also featured a set - an office space filled with desks - that served as a visual metaphor of the WikiLeaks website. Honestly, I found this so-called metaphor rather irrelevant and ham-fisted.

However, "THE FIFTH ESTATE" had its good points. I thought Bill Condon's direction of the film to be solid and well-paced. He was ably assisted by Tobias Schliessler's sharp cinematography and Virginia Katz's skillful editing. Condon also did an excellent job of injecting suspension in a tale that focused on the Internet. I feel that he and screenwriter Josh Singer were right to include the consequences of the Afghan War Logs exposure in a few sequences featuring a Libyan doctor with political ties named Tarek Haliseh, who served as an informant for U.S. intelligence. Despite the film's failure to focus some of its story from Assange's viewpoint, I must admit that I found the movie's plot very interesting. Thanks to "THE FIFTH ESTATE", I managed to maintain my interest in WikiLeaks a lot longer than ten minutes or less. 

I cannot deny that "THE FIFTH ESTATE" greatly benefited from a talented cast. Benedict Cumberbatch gave a very interesting performance as colorful creator of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. I have no idea if the latter was satisfied with Cumberbatch. And there is a good chance (or not) that the characterization was off. If it was off, then one must place the blame on Singer's screenplay, not Cumberbatch's skillful performance. A less skillful actor could have easily been overshadowed by Cumberbatch's performance. Fortunately, Daniel Brühl was talented enough to make Daniel Domscheit-Berg a fascinating character in his own right - especially in scenes that conveyed the latter's frustrations with the Assange character. A third performance that caught my eye came from David Thewlis, who was equally colorful as British journalist Nick Davies, who covered WikiLeaks' exposure of the Afghan War Logs. I was also impressed by Laura Linney, who did an excellent job in conveying the U.S. intelligence services' anger and frustration toward the WikiLeaks website. The movie also featured solid performances from Stanley Tucci, Alicia Vikander, Dan Stevens, Alexander Siddig, Peter Capaldi, Moritz Bleibtreu and Anthony Mackie. However, I was disappointed by the film's minimum use of Mackie. For someone listed third in the cast, he had a very small role.

Despite the negative reaction to the movie and my belief that it could have included the viewpoint of main character Julian Assange, I still managed to enjoy "THE FIFTH ESTATE". I thought director Bill Condon and screeenwriter Josh Singer did a solid job in creating a credible thriller from a movie about computer online leakage. More importantly, the film benefited from first-rate performances given by a talented cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl.

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