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Fifth Estate, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Ironically, The Film Itself Blows As Well"
2 stars

Whatever your feelings towards the controversial Wikileaks founder Julian Assange--whether you find him to be a heroic figure bravely exposing the world's dark and ugly secrets as a way of making things better and more open or a self-aggrandizing troll who has put thousands of people around the world at risk simply to stroke his ever-expanding ego--the docudrama "The Fifth Estate" will almost certainly paralyze you with boredom and annoy you with the sense of a golden opportunity being missed.

Based on a pair of published chronicles that Assange himself has denounced (along with the film itself), we see Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he creates a website designed to allow whistleblowers to expose the ills of the world without fear of reprisal and, with the aid of fellow programmer Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl), begins offering an alternative to traditional media that begins regularly routing the big boys at their own game. With each successive scoop, however, the stakes grow increasingly dangerous and when Assange's exposes begin to threaten individual people as well as power structures--a development that doesn't seem to concern him at all--Berg and other increasingly disillusioned Wikileaks employees try to reason with him and, when that fails, struggle to try to put the technological genie that they have helped escape back into its bottle.

The film clearly has designs of being a modern-day "All the Presidents Men" but as journalism-related movies go, it is more on the level of "Perfect." For starters, the story of Assange and Wikileaks may be interesting for people with a keen interest in media studies but it does not make for especially gripping entertainment unless the sight of people typing dramatically happens to float your boat, in which case this will be like "Die Hard" for you. A bigger problem is that Assange, at least as depicted here, comes across as so obnoxious and self-absorbed that he makes the kid in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" seem cuddly and nuanced by comparison. (At the same time, Berg comes across as complex and conflicted throughout, presumably because the screenplay was based in part on his best-selling account of the story.)

As Assange, Cumberbatch gets the surface details right but never digs beneath the surface to offer up a glimpse of what it is that makes a person like him tick (then again, he can hardly be faulted since neither screenwriter Josh Singer nor director Bill Condon have given him much to work with either) while Bruhl is stuck playing a character who comes across as far more virtuous here than he could have possibly been in real life and a strong cast of supporting actors, including Laura Linney, David Thewlis, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie, Alicia Vikander and Carice van Houten, is summarily wasted across the board. What is most frustrating is that the story of Assange and what he has done is the kind of thing that could make for gripping and thought-provoking drama. Alas, "The Fifth Estate" is not it.

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originally posted: 10/18/13 14:21:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

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  18-Oct-2013 (R)
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