Cumberbatch Fails to Lose his Charisma in The Fifth Estate [Review]
I am still not sure what to think about this movie, and I have thought about it a lot. I believe, that is the primary intention of the filmmakers. To make us think, to ask questions, to wonder if what we are told, and read is actually the truth. This film had problems, as any film that is attempting to dramatize actual people and events will. It is impossible as an audience member to completely sever ties with reality, when what you are watching, is in fact a dramatization of actual events and individuals. If it were completely accurate reenactments it would be a documentary, and as interesting as they can be, they are usually on the dull side of the entertainment spectrum. The filmmakers had to sacrifice the accuracy of the people, or the events. Sometimes they choose the events, but for the most part here they choose to tweak the personalities of the people. Everyone is a little larger than life, which would tend to make the people being portrayed to be less than thrilled when that shift is negatively perceived. That said, it is entirely watchable, and even entertaining. There are characters to love, and loath, and they often trade positions. I found myself engaged, scrutinizing what I thought I knew, and in spite of his character I was utterly charmed by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The Fifth Estate, which could be called “WikiLeaks, The Movie”, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as founder Julian Assange, and Daniel Brühl as Daniel Domscheit-Berg. The film, written by Josh Singer, is based partially, on the books Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg (AKA Daniel Schmitt), and WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy by journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding. It was directed by Gods and Monsters director, Bill Condon (who also directed Twilight: Breaking Dawn part 1 & 2, I won’t hold that against him). Supporting cast, which is phenomenal, includes; David Thewlis as Nick Davies, Peter Capaldi as Alan Rusbridger, Stanley Tucci, and Laura Linney. The film dramatizes the rise of WikiLeaks, and their release of classified U.S. Documents. Along with their work, under the altruistic banner of unfiltered whistle-blowing and reporting, with various news outlets including the UK Guardian.
The first and foremost reason I loved this movie was the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch. He is an awesome performer and I am thrilled his career has exploded, anyone who remembers his performance in Hawking should hardly be surprised. If you are unfamiliar with his current body of work it’s well worth tracking down. I was equally pleased with Peter Capaldi whose charismatic performances nearly overwhelm the screen, and David Thewlis whose understated style of performance creates instantly likeable and complex characters. Stanley Tucci, and Laura Linney are relegated to minor supporting roles to help progress the plot and sell the narrative. I believe their characters are entirely fictitious, so they didn’t have the burden of attempting to keep a performance accurate while also keeping it interesting, so unfortunately these two fantastic actors were overshadowed. I like them, and feel bad about that.
The film itself is now, and has been, enveloped in a shroud of controversy and criticism. Particularly from Julian Assange, who wrote to Cumberbatch in January, before filming began. You can read the letter here. During a recent Reddit AMA Cumberbatch had the opportunity to publicly respond to the letter. He was asked; Did [Assange’s letter]affect the way you portrayed him or even make you second guess your role at all in this film? His response:
“Yes, of course it did. To have the man you are about to portray ask you intelligently and politely not to do it gave me real cause for concern, however, it galvanized me into addressing why I was doing this movie. He accuses me of being a “hired gun” as if I am an easily bought cypher for right wing propaganda. Not only do I NOT operate in a moral vacuum but this was not a pay day for me at all. I’ve worked far less hard for more financial reward. This project was important to me because of the integrity I wanted to bring to provocative difficult but ultimately timely and a truly important figure of our modern times. The idea of making a movie about someone who so far removed from my likeness or situation who brought about an ideal through personal sacrifice that has changed the way we view both social media, the power of the individual to have a voice in that space, and be able to question both the hypocrisies and wrongdoings of organizations and bodies of powerful people that rule our lives… This resonated deeply with my beliefs in civil liberty, a healthy democracy, and the human rights of both communities and individuals to question those in authority. I believe that the film, quite clearly, illuminates the great successes of wikileaks and its extraordinary founder Julians Assange. As well as, examining the personalities involved and what become a dysfunctional relationship within that organization. While the legacy of his actions and the organizations continue to evolve and only history will be the true judge of where this is leading us. The Fifth Estate is a powerful, if dramatized, entry point for a discussion about this extraordinary lurch forward in our society. I wanted to create a three dimensional portrait of a man far more maligned in the tabloid press than he is in our film to remind people that he is not just the weird, white haired Australian dude wanted in Sweden, hiding in an embassy behind Harrods. But a true force to be reckoned with, achieved the realization of the great ideal. I’m proud to be involved in tackling such a contentious character and script. There is only personal truth in my opinion, and the film should provoke debate and not consensus. It should be enjoyable and ultimately empowering to realize that Julian has spearheaded a movement that is the foundations stone of The Fifth Estate, people journalism and what that is capable of including finding out the “truth” for yourself.”
The Fifth Estate is a solid technologically sophisticated drama. It will fill your head with questions if you allow it, and leave you questioning what you know as the truth. If you are not interested in questions, you can simply enjoy a phenomenal performance by Benedict Cumberbatch.
I give this film a solid 8 out of 10, along with my personal recommendation.