‘The Fifth Estate’ finds itself in the middle ground

by Alek Sanchez

By undertaking the story of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, “The Fifth Estate” tries to portray a modern depiction of how outdated and archaic the traditional forms of media and journalism are. However, even with an impressive cast led by the charismatic Benedict Cumberbatch, the movie does not connect with the right audience.

The film is centered around Assange and WikiLeaks, the website that served as a platform for anonymous whistle-blowers to safely uncover corporate crimes and government secrets. The site was able to break stories that other outlets only dreamed they could have had an inside scoop on.

“The Fifth Estate” tells the tale of WikiLeaks founder Julain Assange (Cumberbatch) and his colleague, Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl). Viewers are able to see WikiLeaks from its upstart, as Julian and Daniel work to gain a following, broaden their fan base and inform more people of their work. As their company grows, so does their profile. As the secrets that fall into their hands grow, the consequences for leaking such sensitive information become dire.

“The Fifth Estate” bills itself as a pseudo-political thriller, but fails to execute this in the first half as it sets a light tone despite the heavy subject material. Cumberbatch’s portrayal of a savant teetering on the edge of madness is startlingly spot-on as he nails Julian’s quirks. The actor precisely depicts the nervousness and uneasiness Assange displays portrays whenever on stage or in front of a crowd. Daniel serves as Julian’s right hand man, but Bruhl’s performance is marred in his character’s blind faith in Julian. It isn’t until the second half that we see Daniel vocalize what he truly believes in. Along with the two leading men, “The Fifth Estate” has an impressive cast, with heavyweights such as Stanley Tucci and Laura Linley, who play U.S. government officials. It’s sad to see them so underutilized, but there wasn’t much for them to do given the material. However, I enjoyed their performances nonetheless.

Where “The Fifth Estate” falls flat is its inability to decide who it wants to cater to. The flashes of text messages and IMs accompanied with energetic techno beats help the drama appeal to a younger crowd, but anyone with any background in computers would yawn at the biopics attempt at edgniess. There is also a heavy focus on the technical nuances and jargon that alienates people who are less tech savvy. What it comes down to is that “The Fifth Estate” tries too hard to dumb things down.

A redeeming moment for “The Fifth Estate” is when Julian and Daniel start questioning the morality in releasing certain documents. The intensity builds and spectators feel the gravity of the scene.

“The Fifth Estate” will clarify for people who aren’t familiar with the facts, but doesn’t do anything drastic to change anyone’s views on WikiLeaks.

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