WikiLeaks film “The Fifth Estate” is WikiWeak

Juan Barquin/ Staff Writer

It’s hard to take a step into a politically-charged thriller these days without hearing someone or other spout out George Orwell quotes more than once as part of some anti-government motivation. When watching “The Fifth Estate,” you can feel this desperate longing to rally against Big Brother, but frankly, it’s a film Big Brother would switch off for someone whose secrets are a little more interesting.

“The Fifth Estate” is a film entirely focused on the lives of Julian Assange and Daniel Berg, two men intimately involved with the well-known site WikiLeaks. A story like this clearly lends itself to a digitally modern presentation, but for some reason, Bill Condon doesn’t find himself adapting to the tech-savvy universe he hopes to showcase.

Condon, who did marvels with the last two installments of “The Twilight Saga” by working with his writer to inject some much comedy to the series, struggles to find any real tone to stick with throughout the film. It leaps for comedy that’s too far out of reach, slithers in and out of romantic subplots and only accomplishes its aspirations to be a thriller in certain segments of its last act.

The blame can’t be placed on Condon, who really does try his hardest to be as hip as “The Social Network,” but rather on Josh Singer’s incredibly weak adaptation of two WikiLeaks books. For a man whose contributions to television have been inoffensive, Singer finds ways to stumble constantly through his screenplay.

He drags the film on for two hours, rehashing everything the news has presented about WikiLeaks while adding a narrative where two buds just happen to have everything they worked hard to achieve go wrong. Worse than that is just how muddled his portrayal of Julian Assange really is, not at all complemented by the way Benedict Cumberbatch plays him like a light-hearted and watered-down version of his very own Sherlock character.

“The Fifth Estate” never quite makes up its mind on whether it wants to defend or lambaste Assange, creating a man who is equal parts socially inept, genius, light-hearted buddy, emotionally unstable, paranoid and commanding asshole. Audiences in the know will likely enter with their own bias, of course, but it shouldn’t be a stretch to expect the film to decide whether to shove him in the role of villain like they shamelessly did with Chelsea Manning or present him as a hero for the digital age.

And present him as a hero for the digital age they do, casually allowing its other main character to fall into the cracks. However much screen time Daniel Bruhl might have, his character is overshadowed by the sheer presence of Assange even though it’s technically Berg’s story with WikiLeaks being told. An even bigger shame is the roles of every woman present in the film, as Linney and Vikander are criminally underused and reduced to some rather boring and unnecessary roles in the big picture.

By no means is “The Fifth Estate” a big picture though, feeling much like a TV movie in more ways than not. There’s a certain amount of tact necessary for a political thriller based on reality to work. By the time the informative text of the events following the film kicks in and Cumberbatch as Assange embarrassingly attempts to break the fourth wall by addressing said informative facts, it’s painfully clear that Condon and Singer didn’t have an ounce of tact when approaching this genuine disappointment of a film.

juan.barquin@fiusm.com

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