Film Review: The Fifth Estate

So 24 hours after watching We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks documentary it was time to allow Hollywood it’s shot at portraying the whistle blowing events surrounding a website, a man and a whole lot of secrets, with Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate.

The Fifth Estate is essentially based on the written account of former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and this is where my first problem with The Fifth Estate lies. It feels slanted. I shouldn’t have been surprised though, because if you look at events through a single pair of eyes then you will always see the events with the agenda purely as they see it. But in The Fifth Estate, the slant seems just a little too heightened. It focuses just a little too hard onto one man.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg - The Fifth Estate

It has to be pointed out though, that the events that unfold in The Fifth Estate, mirror very closely a large number of events shown with the documentary and while it wouldn’t surprised me at all if the documentary was used as a source of material for the film it does lend an extra level of credence, and made me believe what I was being told as fact more than if I had come into the story cold.

However, and it’s a big, big problem, the film feels far too glossy. It almost feels as though Hollywood has taken the story and decided it needs to be glamorised. Throughout the film, everything feels too clean, and modern and digital. I kept thinking that they were trying to create tension in a story that didn’t need it. There was a real sense as the film progresses that you were being artificially pushed towards the edge of your seat. I got a real sense that they didn’t believe in the narrative enough; I felt like they were trying to trick me into feelings that shouldn’t naturally occur. The cinematic style this film over saturates itself was feels too much like they were trying to turn a gritty “out of their depth” power and responsibility story into a modern 21st century spy thriller. Honestly, the recent Bond films feels felt closer to real life than the world inhabited in The Fifth Estate.

Daniel Bruthl & Benedict Cumberbatch - The Fifth Estate

Amazingly though, I have to actually praise Benedict Cumberbatch. I have often slated him for the fact that he appears to only be able to act a single roll. That his expressions and mannerisms are carried over from one part to the next and so, no matter who he’s meant to be I just see Benedict. But in this, that never happened. Throughout the film, he was Julian Assange. And having seen how the real Assange lives, his mannerisms, accent, appearance so shortly before, leaving the details for comparison so fresh, that it really did make me appreciate just how accurately Cumberbatch had nailed his author.

Looking back, I’ve been left slightly torn and disappointed in The Fifth Estate, because while it does seemingly play fair, if biased, with the actual events of it’s plot; and almost accepts that it needs to take another tack with the WikiLeaks timeline to avoid a direct, and unwinnable, comparison with the documentary, it sadly takes such a dramatised tone with events that I know are true, that they end up appearing almost fictional. It really does feel like a story born from imagination.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange - The Fifth Estate

I watched both the documentary and the film so close together to allow me to draw comparisons between the two, to see how they: confirm, deny or bend the truth, to see what secrets they attempt to hide. But instead, I’ve come away wishing I hadn’t; because while The Fifth Estate is actually a fairly decent film that can stand on it’s own two feet, Hollywood’s attempt to artificially create a world into which these characters should fit, to make the story into something it’s not, just shows how far removed from the real life scenarios that played out it truly is and destroys all faith I have in it, even though I know it’s appears accurate in it’s narrative timeline.

Don’t allow Hollywood’s foolishness to be the reason you shy away from The Fifth Estate though; like I said, there is enough truth surviving from the original gripping story, that it can hold it’s head high and provide an evenings entertainment; but if you’re given the choice between the film and the documentary, chose the documentary.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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