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Blu-ray Review: 'The Fifth Estate'

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The Film:

There’s a fascinating story to be told of the WikiLeaks scandal and of its founder, the mysterious Julian Assange. Unfortunately, “The Fifth Estate” is not quite it. Focusing primarily on Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his business partner Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl), we first meet the pair after WikiLeaks has seen some success, but nothing that has really caught a huge amount of attention. After Julian brings Daniel into the project, they work together to authenticate and publish documents proving that a large bank has been carrying out some underhanded deals, documents that single-handedly bring the bank down. This exposure leads them to gain more and more information from various, confidential sources, bringing about a massive amount of leaks. Eventually they come to what will be their biggest leak of all, a multitude of government documents and wires containing a wealth of confidential information about all kinds of high-ranking officials, and even data about the war that was being kept under wraps. Julian had always claimed that their first mission was to protect the whistleblowers and also to publish documents unedited, but with so much sensitive data that could potentially put many lives at risk, Daniel isn’t about to let Julian do what he pleases anymore.

The whole WikiLeaks affair made headlines across the globe a few years ago, causing uproars in several countries over the secretive information that found its way onto the site. It’s creative massive ripples that have effectively changed things on an international level. The story has the potential to be gripping, thrilling, and thoroughly informative, so what went so wrong with “The Fifth Estate?” One of its main problems is the superficial use of the characters. It doesn’t attempt to delve into them very much, or turn them into fully-developed, three-dimensional people. After watching the film, you’d think that the filmmakers thought of Julian and Daniel merely as people putting classified documents on a website for all the time they take to get us genuinely interested in who they are as human beings.

The other major problem they face is not knowing how to get the tension and thrills out of the story. For the most part, “The Fifth Estate” plods on at a snail’s pace, hoping that the narrative will be interesting enough to keep your attention, at least until we come to the most famous leak. However, even when we get there, it’s so stretched out that the audience’s interest is lost over the duration. The main thing it has going for it are the lead performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl. Cumberbatch is always a delight to watch, but unfortunately he isn’t able to bring much depth to the character because the screenplay doesn’t really allow for it. Bruhl, who has received much acclaim recently for his performance in “Rush,” does a fine job as well, but he too is handicapped by this uninspired telling of the tale.

Perhaps this is simply material that is better left to a documentary. I’ve yet to see the other WikiLeaks film, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” but based on its reception, it appears to do the better job at getting this story across. “The Fifth Estate” had the opportunity to dazzle us with one of the biggest news stories of the last few years, but it never goes into enough depth, plot-wise or character-wise, to get us involved, and because of that it merely becomes a forgettable film that had potential.

Video/Audio:

“The Fifth Estate” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that is a little fuzzier than normal, but is otherwise very watchable. It’s not a particularly noticeable fuzziness. In fact, you may not even notice it after a while as I did. For the most part, the quality is what you’d expect from any Blu-ray. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is top-notch. All sounds come through loud and clear, in addition to being mixed and presented at acceptable levels. As usual, I find very little to complain about in either department.

Special Features:

The Submission Platform: A ten-minute featurette that focuses on the creation of the Submission Platform room used in the film. On its own, it’s not a very interesting featurette, nor does it go into much depth, so it’s not really worth taking a look at.

In-Camera Graphics: A six-minute featurette that focuses mainly on the text effects seen in the film. It’s another featurette that doesn’t really go into much depth, nor is it particularly interesting, making it easily skipable as well.

Scoring Secrets: A nine-minute featurette about the film’s music. As usual, with featurettes of this type, unless you’re really interested in how the music was made, then it’s not really worth watching.

Conclusion:

Unfortunately the special features contain nothing that is particularly “special” at all. I would have liked to see more in-depth behind the scenes featurettes exploring how the filmmakers approached such an interesting, real-life story, and how they went about putting it together. A commentary from the director and screenwriter would have been wonderful as well, but sadly we don’t get anything of that nature. What we’re left with are extras that aren’t worth sitting through and a film that doesn’t delve deep enough into its subject matter to get the audience engaged. In fact, the one really nice thing about this release is the video/audio quality, but other than that, there just isn’t much to recommend here.

Score: 2.5/5

Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: Captain Phillips, You're Next, A Single Shot, Insidious: Chapter 2, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Elysium, The Hunt, Touchy Feely, The Rooftop, Drinking Buddies, Inpractical Jokers: Season One, Planes, Paranoia, The To Do List, Blackfish

Now playing in theaters: The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Dallas Buyers Club

Also be sure to check out my lists of the Best and Worst Films of 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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