So I went to see a man about a dog and ended-up at a screening of The Fifth Estate. Who knew bringing about world information transparency was just a simple tale of a bro’mance gone sour?
Had Benedict Cumberbatch not been so convincing as odd-man-out, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, the film would have been unwatchable, with its cheesy, thin dialog punctuated by periodic stabs at bold statements of moral grandeur from the bottom of a pint glass. Trust me when I say Captain Kirk used to make the exact same kinds of speeches, except Kirk had a better haircut and he meant it.
My big mistake was to go into the screening (thank you for it, Atlanta Press Club, regardless) expecting a grand newsroom drama, as that’s how I’d always framed the Assange/Wikileaks phenom in my head: as a newsroom-based struggle (to redact or not) between Assange and Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian. Especially after having read the excellent book on the matter, Wikileaks, by Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding.
But in The Fifth Estate, Assange gets schooled-up and sent out in the cold by flat, wet noodle Daniel, so boring he doesn’t even warrant a last name, his Wikileaks partner who, as the dreary, millennial-like IT guy, wouldn’t have known a journalism ethic if he’d accidentally fucked one.
Which, surprise, is how the filmmaker attempts to tack some character onto little Daniel – by giving him a woman; whereas Assange, by comparison, doesn’t get a princess-lady figure. As if he doesn’t deserve one. He does. But let’s move on.
Alas, the film is not the edgy, excited newsroom drama it easily could have been. Rather, it’s a story about how an unenlightened IT guy stumbled briefly in and out of greatness by hanging-out with Julian Assange at a conference, once; then blinged-out for younger, flimsier minds with sparkly footlights of unreadable digi-screen data scrolls, what passes nowadays for set decor.
That said, if you’re a borderline Assange groupie (admittedly, that would be me) and you’ve been jonesin’ for him bad during his self-imposed exile, the film will set you up nice with the calm of a Benedict Cumberbatch paper cup of fascinating-actor methadone, if not the real deal.
In other words, you’re in no danger of having troubling nightmares over The Fifth Estate, so do something nice for yourself and go see Cumberbatch on a big screen. And wake-up with a smile on your face instead of a questioning, roiled mind.