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Bill Condon's The Fifth Estatedoes no justice to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, on whom the film is based. A poorly shot and directed film, it is marginally watchable only because of the prospect of Benedict Cumberbatch playing the enigmatic Assange, but even his performance seems laboured. Hopefully, there will be more films to come on who is easily one of the most controversial contemporary figures.Read more
Is there anyone at all in the world who has dared to use the unparalleled power of the World Wide Web towards a more controversial and daring endeavour than WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange? A man who single-handedly shook up the diplomatic establishment with his avante-garde whistleblowers' website, even a cursory read on Assange will tell you that his life is a story worth knowing about.
You'd think that it would be pretty hard to mess up a film on the life of a man like Assange; you'd have so much material to go by that you wouldn't need to put in any extra effort to dramatize goings-on, or attempt any technical gimmickry to make things appear interesting. Well, it turns out that the director of the last two Twilight films can, indeed, make such a mess.
One of the key problems with Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate is its jarring visual treatment; the gritty, shaky camera and nervous, frequent-cutting were probably employed to keep the audience on the edge at all times, but it just doesn't work. This is the kind of film where you want the writing to do the talking, not the camera or technique. Alas, the narrative of the film is flat, because of a singularly uninspiring screenplay.
The film merely documents some of the key leaks that took the world by storm, while intermittently pausing to show Assange as a well-intentioned but egotistical, stubborn maniac - a man who didn't want to relinquish control simply because he trusted no one. There isn't anything in the film that you don't know or couldn't guess. It is watchable, but rarely anything more.
Of course, a large part of the blame lies on the source material of the film. Based on the book 'Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website' by Assange's erstwhile associate Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the film rarely offers any insight into Assange, or rarely delves into any truly thrilling or spectacular secrets that would shock the world. Berg and Assange had a well-known falling out, and while the film doesn't particularly go out of its way to paint Assange in a negative light, it almost seems more like an attempt to exonerate Berg from any blame.
All eyes were on Benedict Cumberbatch and his portrayal of the controversial figure. Well, Cumberbatch has clearly tried hard. The problem is that the effort shows. His mannerisms and diction seem effected, though one can't fault him for failing to convey the right emotion. Daniel Brühl, last seen as Niki Lauda in Rush, is excellent as always. He plays the author of the book the film is based on. He at least manages to convince you of his side of the story clearly. Even though Assange's character comes across as merely a slightly unusual piece of cardboard.
I doubt that The Fifth Estate will be the last film on the life and times of Julian Assange, because surely there's a whole lot more to the man than what has hitherto been whistled and blown about. While this film is ordinary at best, something far more interesting - in true Assange style - is the open letter that Assange wrote to Benedict Cumberbatch when the film was still in its early days. That letter, at the very least, has a shred of emotion in it.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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