The Fifth Estate, which opens in theaters today (Oct. 18), wasted a lot of potential.
In the realm of films about journalism and its ideals few great films exist. The greatest – arguably – remains All the President’s Men, which delved into the world of Watergate, but more importantly helped people understand that Richard Nixon sanctioned political scandal.
The Fifth Estate could have been to the 21st century what President’s was to the 20th – engaging, intelligent and relevant.
The subject matter in itself – the evolution of journalism – is fascinating enough to merit exploration, but the fact that it’s based on a true story, should make it that much more compelling.
Ultimately that’s not the case. For a movie with that goal or pretense it proves remarkably inert, lacking emotion and the sense that its protagonists are engaged in a noble calling.
Instead we’re given a film that’s inert with the ultimate audience reaction likely to be indifference. That’s sad because there’s a real debate regarding old and new media and the dissemination of information and the ethics surrounding those factors worthy of having within this film.
They try to have them, but the ideas, the thoughts and the way they’re articulated never gains traction. Maybe that’s because the person who stands at the center of The Fifth Estate is so utterly unlikable. Julian Assange (portrayed Benedict Cumberbatch, a rising British actor with undeniable appeal), is an ambitious, intelligent guy with a noble cause.
He’s also self-involved, condescending and narcissistic. He meets up with Daniel Schmitt (Daniel Bruhl of Rush) just his Assange’s website, Wikileaks.org begins to take off. But while it represents a new wave of thought regarding journalism – information flows instantly, unedited with only source checking as a gatekeeper – it abandons all of the precepts of old school journalism where the lives of people stories might affect are taken into consideration.
Assange finds himself conflicted when he has to deal with The Guardian, The New York Times and Germany’s Der Spiegel when an Army private, Bradley Manning, gifts his organization with thousands of incriminating documents related to the war in Afghanistan.
Had screenwriter Josh Singer and director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) dealt specifically with that issue in the conflicts arising from it, they would have had a much more enthralling and entertaining film.
Instead they give us a look inside Assange’s quirky personality – something that could have been done during the course of the movie in different ways. That debate rests at the heart of the film and yet it’s treated as a cinematic equivalent of an appendix.
And that’s not meant to be a criticism of Cumberbatch who brings all of Assange’s paranoia, narcissism and other quirks to life. As constituted, his performance is the best thing about Estate. But it would have been so much better to see him work with this subject matter in a film that focused on the aforementioned conflicts.
As it stands The Fifth Estate is a huge missed opportunity.
Movie: The Fifth Estate
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thewlis, Daniel Bruhl
Rated: R for language and some violence
Running time: 128 minutes
George’s rating: 2.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com