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The Fifth Estate(2013) – History Unmade.

Language : English | Running Time : 128 Minutes | Director : Bill Condon

At the end of the movie, we see Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) dismissing the movie, the book it is based upon and calling them both lies and inaccurate versions of himself and his organisation. A movie after failing to make any emotion count throughout its run time till then, manages to evoke an emotion that bordered on exasperation at this attempt to cast aspersions about the integrity of the movie.

Julian AssangeThe Fifth Estate is based on a book by Daniel Domscheit-Berg(Daniel Brühl), someone who reminds us of Eduardo Severin from The Social Network. Like Eduardo Severin, Daniel Berg is someone who is brought in by the charisma of an egomaniac man and then discarded when he no longer is abler to match the needs. Daniel is brought in by Assange and they serve as a two-man team for an organisation which is believed to have hundreds of volunteers serving it. We find Daniel Berg is swayed by the prophet like nature of Assange and for us the movie becomes his version of Wikileaks. What we witness is the craziness of investigative journalism as they fly from on city to another, sitting in cafes with their laptops open, closing them as people walk in on them. Initially, there’s an excitement in what we see. Two men taking on the world, starting an information war with history being their judge. As the tale winds down, it loses track of what it wants to be and it comes out in shambles like something that’s been in a train wreck.

Through Daniel’s eyes we see Julian Assange as a mad prophet, a genius hacker, a laptop hogging egomaniac who lives for himself. His beliefs are important but he lives for himself. There are moments where Julian Assange’s emotions are stripped bare, like the moment he confesses that he has a son and he has to live away from him because of the work he does, or the death of his friends in Kenya. These are moments when Julian Assange’s human side comes to light but otherwise we see a man for whom the world around him is built around himself. When he walks into Daniel’s bedroom, not minding Daniel’s girlfriend Anke(Alicia Vikander) and sets up shop, you realise that for Julian, the world is always about what he wants and expects. We see a man capable of doing deals with publications like The Guardian, Der Spiegel and The New York Times when the time suits him and then go on to do what he feels is right, no matter what the repercussions. Like Nick Davies(David Thewlis), a reporter with The Guardian rightly claims in the end, history would be the judge of the men. Their actions might be right or wrong and this isn’t the right time to dig into it, the consequences would be measurable only after time has rolled by in years.

the-fifth-estate-group-600It is here that The Fifth Estate evokes memories of The Social Network. Unlike The Social Network, this doesn’t come with extraordinary writing or dialogues. The characters of Julian Assange and Daniel Berg are classic characters that we see in movies. The saner character of Daniel becoming our vantage point to observe the pathological protagonist, Julian Assange. In David Fincher‘s The Social Network, the same could be applied to Eduardo Severin and Mark Zuckerberg respectively. As brilliant and charismatic as Benedict Cumberbatch is as Julian Assange, Daniel Brühl s Daniel Domscheit-Berg comes across as insipid and it is no fault of his but the lack of an impression that the character makes except for a whiny man who seems out of his depth but wants to do the right thing.

As we sit down to watch the movie there’s anticipation that this might turn out to be a Frost/Nixon or  All The President’s Men but when the film focusses on anyone but Benedict Cumberbatch or David Thewlis. For a movie which has very capable actors and intriguing material, Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate rarely ventures into the realm of exciting film making. The problem with The Fifth Estate is that it has too many tangential plots going about but none of them culminate in a satisfying manner. The arc which involves Laura LinneyStanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie and a Libyan informer comes across as a poorly done extraction sequence. The conversation after it and before it are neither too convincing or engaging. We wish to see more of Julian Assange as everything without him looks boring.

The Fifth Estate suffers in major from its intention to be neutral to the story. It tries hard to offer everyone speaking chance but it also brings out too many unanswered questions and the narrative breaks off at that point. The Fifth Estate is watchable thanks to the brilliant performances by David Thewlis and Benedict Cumberbatch. In an alternative universe, the movie would have been about an information war that birthed a Fifth Estate but in this one, it is merely a psychodaddy of unfulfilled potential.

By: Hithesh Devasya
Posted: October 27, 2013, 6:22 pm


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