VOD film review: The Fifth Estate
Jo Bromilow | On 22, Feb 2014
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Benedict Cumberbath, Daniel Brühl, Laura Linney, Peter Capaldi, David Thewlis, Stanley Tucci
Watch The Fifth Estate online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
The Social Network made the Internet sexy again. For every ‘Hackers’ that came before it, David Fincher’s film made nerdery trendy again, largely thanks to a killer script, tight editing and a pumping score. The Fifth Estate does its damnedest to replicate this, but a movie that turns out to be considerably less than the sum of its parts shows quite how hard it is to tell a great story.
A stellar cast including Peter Capaldi, David Thewlis, Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci join the heroes of the piece (played by Daniel Brühl and Benedict Cumberbatch) in an all-star effort – perhaps attempting to mimic the gravitas of films such as Margin Call – to lift the lid on Wikileaks, arguably one of the greatest examples of citizen journalism of our time, which, in turn, attempts to redefine the concept of open data.
A sensitive subject that warrants, and is getting, ongoing discussion, this movie’s message of the individual’s role in the battle for knowledge is timeless and resonates across a far wider audience than the film had when it opened, and far wider again than it will inevitably get on its DVD and VOD release. Because in holding up films such as The Social Network as a bastion of how to tell such a story, it fails to look beyond the style and see the substance.
The real failing of The Fifth Estate is it has no idea whose tale it is really telling: Linney’s US government official (cut from the Carrie Mathison mould), Brühl’s endearing, disillusioned Daniel Berg and Cumberbatch’s efficiently soulless Julian Assange all vie for the director’s attention. None fully get it, resulting in an empty character study of the various individuals caught up in the war for information. Whose story are we hearing?
Aside from limp hyperbole from Thewlis’ rumpled editor, you are unsure who or what you are invested in. Sympathy for Assange at the time of release is not forthcoming and the film doesn’t seem to offer him any favours. Berg’s Saverin-like protege-turned-defector offers us a vague attempt at justifying his behaviour, but by the end of a rapid-fire two hours strapped to the front of a news camera swooping rapidly around the world, spanning dates and timezones, you are begging to learn what your journey was for. Elements of the Facebook biopic, from techno-rave coding scenes to disinterested girlfriends, run rife throughout, and the flat ending is comparable. But, in keeping with the manner of Cumberbatch’s portrayal, you are left cold.
Who is the fifth estate? Aside from the promotional materials, the concept is not mentioned. A subtler title may have helped here, but it would have taken more than better branding to save Assange’s legacy and justify his role in the grand data exposé as being anything other than a bizarre vanity project. He is reputed to have begged Cumberbatch not to have taken the role. He needn’t have bothered. The lasting impact of this film will be one of resounding disinterest.
The Fifth Estate is available to watch online in the UK on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.