Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Students discuss their work in class at the MESA center at American River College on April 25, 2024. (Photo: Cristian Gonzalez/CalMatters)
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    ‘The Fifth Estate’ doesn’t assuage Assange

    In the apparent cloak and dagger world of online reporting, it is apparently difficult to know the truth. Evidently, equally difficult is turning such activities into a film that feels even half as compelling as the story upon which it is based.

    “The Fifth Estate,” directed by Bill Condon and R.J. Cutler, is the ethically ambivalent dramatization of the famous, or infamous depending on your perspective, Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

    (From left) Cumberbatch, Vikander, Brühl, and Beyer have a collective squint session.

    Not that ethical ambivalence is necessarily a negative when it comes to cinema, but here it just falls flat. Instead of a compelling docudrama and thriller, 124 minutes of various people staring squinty-eyed at computer screens is on offer.

    Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) narrows his eyes and hammers his keyboard furiously. Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl) narrows his eyes and hammers his keyboard furiously. And, not surprisingly, Marcel Rosenbach (Alexander Beyer) narrows his eyes and hammers his keyboard furiously.

    When keyboards are safe from assault, what we are left with is essentially a character study of Assange himself. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a character assault on Assange.

    Granted, Cumberbatch does a skillful job of portraying the enigmatic founder of Wikileaks. His Assange is at once manipulative, egomaniacal, brilliant, paranoid, uncompromising, sometimes subdued, and even personable.

    The problem with rolling all of these character traits into one person is obvious, however. Read aloud, they sound like the defining characteristics of a sociopath.

    Again, movies about sociopaths can be infinitely interesting. However, despite all of Cumberbatch’s theatric aptitude, in the hands of Condon and Cutler what winds up on screen feels remarkably like a repackaged version of “The Social Network” (Fincher, 2010).

    For his part, Brühl seems to serve as the film’s moral compass. His Daniel Berg alternates between believing in Assange’s vision of a transparent society and questioning Assange’s methodology.

    His dissent, for which he is summarily excoriated, ultimately feels less like the pleading of a conscientious objector and more like another excuse to paint Assange the megalomaniac.

    Though the action tends to center around Assange and Berg, there is a smattering of other characters included, making the cast at times feel like an ensemble. The trouble is, nobody else has much to do apart from moaning about their ineffectuality.

    As a case in point, Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci, despite their infinite talents and top billing, are in most cases reduced to spectators.

    The net result is a film that is decidedly masculine and perhaps latently sexist. Nearly every female character in the film, including a minister of the Icelandic Parliament, is subject to objectification.

    The one relatively prominent woman in the film, Anke Domscheit (Alicia Vikander), is Berg’s girlfriend. In the best tradition of male-ego-driven political thrillers, hers is the stereotypical role of nattering naysayer.

    As if all this were not enough, the technical merits, or lack thereof, of “The Fifth Estate” do nothing to help. Ham-fisted transitions, an overabundance of strobe lights, a loud color palette, and a dance-music-laden soundtrack at times give the film the look and feel of a music video.

    What results is the impression that when Condon and Cutler are not remaking “The Social Network,” they are remaking 1990s era cyberpunk films. It is almost surprising that Angelina Jolie and Matthew Lillard do not have cameo appearances.

    Key issues such as of Bradley Manning, leaked diplomatic cables, and the “Collateral Murder” video remain. “The Fifth Estate” does deal with these issues, but they are relegated to the last 30 minutes of the film.

    In so doing, perhaps the most compelling portion of the Wikileaks story comes across as a rushed afterthought. Further, the filmmakers seem to be using this as another way to make Assange look arrogant and self-centered.

    Assange is not a particularly pleasant person. But why does it take two hours to explain the point?

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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