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fifth estate
Click for full sized poster

The Fifth Estate

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Carice Van Houten, Dan Stevens, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney
Screenplay by Josh Singer
Directed by Bill Condon

The older we get; the more we observe the over-arc'ing history of the great forces that have shaped Western Civilization, the more we are convinced that the big players behave no better than three year old kiddies do in their 'MINE MINE MINE" stage. Several years ago, there was an online creation called WikiLeaks.org, dedicated to . . . heck, we're not really sure. Something about leaking secret government correspondences, thus encouraging "transparency in government" and, as a side effect, revealing the tax dodges of the "one per centers" that control all the money in the world. And thus control the world.

IN SHORT: "...the way the world ends ... with a whimper...". [Rated . 128 minutes]

With apologies to T.S. Eliot, we begin our review of The Fifth Estate, which re-creates the theoretical end of the world's secrets and the fall of the Great Powers ... or at least it does in the mind of one Julian Assange, brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. If we follow the story correctly, Assange was obsessed with taking down the one percenters who, basically, run the world.,His online organization, Wikileaks.org, did so by obtaining and releasing "inside information" -- confidential memos that, simply put, documented the criminal ways of the corporate entities and the clients they serve.

The leaks wreaked havoc in some African countries and those who leaked the info (we gather from the film's context) were murdered. On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, it's fair to say that the wikileaks.org site was pretty much ignored until thousands of Top Secret U.S. government correspondences hit the internet. Within those docs were clues and/or outright named of the identities of US sympathizers/ informants -- "snitches" in the current street term -- in places like Libya. Places whose law enforcement begins and ends at the barrel of a gun.

At the center of wikileaks.org is Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a white-haired man whose childhood was spent in the captivity of an Australian cult of some kind. As an adult, with the aid of one Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) and an unseen cadre of "hundreds of volunteers," the pair also manage to reveal inside information that brings down a Swiss bank whose existence served to aide the uber-rich in avoiding their tax-paying responsibilities, to the tune of hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars.

The story was a big flash in the pan a couple of years back. Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate doesn't exactly make the whys and wherefore's of WikiLeaks clear. It does burst the bubble that "hundreds" of info leakers were involved in the overall deal but doesn't manage to build a big enough story to get us raving -- the above mention of the Libyan informants gets the film's story as close to dramatic as it can get, eventually bringing in [CIA] operatives played by Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci to run a team determining the "potential damage" from something nicknamed "Operation Cablerun," a 2011 leak of hundreds of thousands of secret US government cables to media outlets around the world.

Once the US of A is pulled into the game, if the film had built a stronger "us vs. them" story -- as in "we have to save our informants in Africa and then figure out how to take out an impossible-to-take-out website" versus Wikileak's belief in their god-given right to spill the beans without protecting the innocents who may get killed as collateral damage, there may have been some great dramatic scenes to be built that would have made a great film. Alas, there is but one. We've dropped enough hints to possibly ruin it for anyone reading this review prior to viewing the film so, sorry about that. Then again, that being the only high point of the film, we're not so sorry.

To be fair, the film's screenplay is so unfocussed that The Fifth Estate spends nearly as much screen time on Assange's hair color as it does on his reasons for believing that "the truth" must be revealed to all, regardless of consequence. An uncozy alliance between Wikileaks and the "fourth estate" -- print media here represented by London's "Guardian" newspaper, in their own alliance/competition with "The New York Times" and Germany's "Der Spiegel" -- fleshes out the impact of the "Cablerun" leak but distracts from a different story that seems to build during the film's run: Is Julian Assange a true visionary or is he just an egomaniac on a rampage?

Heck if we know. There are various criminal charges pending against Assange for things having nothing to do with anything in this film. The film assumes that the viewer is already aware of these other events and they are just brushed off as a kind of retaliation. That is a strange way to make an audience "want more" but whatever it was -- and yes, it is something sexual. It is always something sexual -- could only add to our perception of Assange's psychological make-up. The FIfth Estate's lead character is a mystery inside an enigma wrapped by a riddle, or so the old line goes. The film provides no answers and almost no motivation. Pass it by.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Fifth Estate, he would have paid . . .

$4

The more serious a topic, the greater the amount of information required to enthrall the audience. The Fifth Estate fails on both counts.

You'll find much more information about what was going on in Wikileaks response to the film: http://wikileaks.org/The-Fifth-Estate.html#about. We provide the link for those who choose to watch the film, which is not what we are recommending. Nor is this an endorsement of Wikileak's actions. We're just a grunt who watches movies, and this one just doesn't pack enough power to get our recommendation.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.