By Jacob Montgomery (Texas)
No recent event has sparked as much debate and controversy as Julian Assange and the release of thousands of classified documents on WikiLeaks. Is he a dangerous criminal who deserves to be locked up, or a patriot who exposed hypocrisy and idiocy in the government? People have reasons for which side they lean towards, and to what degree they agree or disagree. However, no matter which side of the debate you find yourself, I think you’ll find many issues with this film, like I did.
From a composition standpoint, the film is just poorly made. The film’s pacing makes what’s going on feel unimportant, and ended up boring me half the time. Throughout the film, it barely raises any complex or interesting questions about this incident, and it doesn’t even try to answer it.
As I kept watching it, I tried to figure out what the filmmakers’ opinion of Assange and his actions were, and I couldn’t. Under normal circumstances that would be a good thing, after all, in a film handling a subject matter as delicate as this, don’t you want a neutral stance? Yes, that would be ideal, but that’s not what they do here. Instead, from the way the film is directed and written, it seems like they are saying they agree with his actions, and then in later scenes, they appear to demonize him. It’s a lack of consistency that makes it even worse than if they had picked a side.
It doesn’t help that Assange is not a very interesting character. He is always one-note and on the same level, he’s a sanctimonious, self-righteous jerk, who manipulates everyone, and then acts surprised when they betray him. I don’t know if the real life Assange is like this, but if he is, the filmmakers should’ve considered taking a few liberties.
But please don’t mistake my criticizing of the film’s portrayal of Assange to be an attack on Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch is excellent in the role, and he does the best job that he can with the material he’s given. He is easily the best actor in the film and the best part of the film as a whole.
The other characters are not very strong. They are not as memorable as Assange, and ultimately, because of the lack of development, I did not care what happened to them. The acting from them is okay, but nothing special.
Even the tone of the film is confusing. Is it a melodrama, a biopic, a techno-thriller, or a political drama? The film doesn’t appear to be interested in choosing one of them, so it tries for all of them, and as a result, achieves none of them.
The audience never understands Assange’s motives, or the motives of any of the other characters, other than they believe it’s the right thing to do, and the film is unsure whether it agrees or disagrees. As a result, The Fifth Estate just ends up being a confused, confidence-lacking historical drama that says virtually nothing about WikiLeaks that we didn’t already know.