By Muhammad Muzammal Columnist
Tense but dully edited, “The Fifth Estate” recounts the growth of WikiLeaks, a highly controversial website known to leak documents without releasing the name of the source. The film depicts the site’s growth from a minuscule, anti-corporate organization into a colossal giant.
At the center of the film is WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange, who is mesmerizingly played by Benedict Cumberbatch as a multifaceted egomaniac. His partner is Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl), who differs from Assange’s persona. Berg believes in telling the truth, while Assange is a deceptive individual.
Berg’s honesty is shown in his buyout of servers for the site. He is a good friend to Assange, spending his personal funds on the project. Assange derives satisfaction from using Berg. Their friendship is tarnished by Assange’s sociopathic personality. When Berg’s parents respectfully invite him over for dinner, Assange harshly insults them. At one point, he verbally attacks Berg and his girlfriend on Twitter, expressing his angst and frustration over a previous argument.
But Assange isn’t just a rude man. He is viewed as a brilliant hacker, making his way into the U.S. government database. One of the neat things about the film is its observational view of Assange’s role in society. Cumberbatch transforms him from a Robin Hood of sorts to a powerful, influential force in the social media world.
Cumberbatch’s performance is near perfect, but the film isn’t. The first two thirds of “The Fifth Estate” are weak and hard to care for. There are problems with the editing, which is disorganized, meaningless and nonsensical. In a scene where Berg and Assange chat with one another online, we see their typed responses as obnoxious subtitles. Yet the actors speak the words. Why put their responses on the screen then?
The flashy shifting between locations cuts like an action film. When scenes switch from one city to another, a green animated sign instantaneously pops up and reads the actual location. It is distracting and unnecessary.
The best scenes come after an invaluable amount of classified information is given to WikiLeaks. The controversial American Private Bradley Manning discloses 91,000 documents to the website. He also attaches a video, which is filmed through the scope of a gun. The weapon is from an American soldier who shoots at a harmless Iraqi citizen.
Things become hectic and chaotic. There’s a scene where Berg sits at a table while Assange discusses The Guardian’s release of the documents. The camera revolves around Daniel, acting as his puzzled mind, symbolizing the circular, never-ending path of social unrest.
Berg knows that by releasing Manning’s name, they will put the young man in danger, something Assange disregards. He would rather spill everything, with no redactions, for the benefit of harmed civilians in the Middle East. This opens up crucial questions. Would too much information overwhelm the public? Should a government or corporation be allowed to keep secrets?
The Fifth Estate acts as if it is a parody of a similar type of movie, “The Social Network.” Like “Network,” The Fifth Estate’s” mysterious main character won’t reveal his own secrets but has no problem exposing those of others. The difference is that “The Fifth Estate” blatantly tells us this message while “The Social Network” shows it, proving the former is not worthy of greatness.
There is a better movie somewhere in director Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate,” one that doesn’t over-preach its messages or display horrible editing. It’s a shame because the film was well acted and even written to a respectable degree. “The Fifth Estate” is an unfortunate instance where you can have all the right pieces but still fail to put out compelling material.