- Grant enables UAB Hospital staff to feed underprivileged moms of newborns
- Military man coming to UAB for first time, graduates Saturday
- UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences to honor distinguished alumni and friends
- ‘Tis the season of giving — UAB launches holiday blood drive
- How a cybersecurity expert protects his smartphone
- ASC presents Take 6, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Dec. 15
- Leeth named UAB School of Medicine assistant dean for strategic planning
- Coping with holiday grief
- New water plan saves big money
- Campus police offer holiday safety tips
- Alys Stephen Center Screens Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago
- Hospital feeds underprivileged new moms
- UAB’s Alys Stephens Center presents Yo-Yo Ma Dec. 6
- Southern Miss tops Blazers, 62-27, in season ending game
- Henry Panion selected for 2014 Alabama African-American History Calendar
The Fifth Estate is a leaky effort
The Fifth Estate tells the tale of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks- or at least a version of it, in part based on his right-hand man Daniel Berg’s book; as well as a book co-written by David Leigh & Luke Harding, journalists for the Guardian that also worked closely with Assange. Assange himself has come out publicly against the film, claiming it’s full of lies and criticizing pretty much everyone involved with the production. Given the film’s less-than-flattering portrayal of Assange as an egotistical, self-serving, anti-social, essentially friendless eccentric genius, I suppose that’s to be expected, whether true or not.
That said, though I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject and haven’t read the books it’s based on, I have seen a documentary about WikiLeaks, as well as various interviews with Assange himself, and I can say, at the very least, actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance here is spot-on and bordering on remarkable. Much like Daniel Day-Lewis in his work in such films as Lincoln, Cumberbatch truly loses himself in the role, to the point where you almost forget you’re not watching the man himself. I would almost say he’d be a sure thing for an Oscar nomination- if only the movie itself were as good as his performance.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s watchable enough, I suppose. But let’s face it; we’re basically talking about a guy who runs a website with a small group of other people. Whistleblowers send him stuff- he posts it. If it weren’t for the nature of the material being shared, I could make the same kind of film in our own newsroom, you know? I mean, it’s just people putting together news for a website, for God’s sake.
What makes films like All the President’s Men and shows like The Newsroom exciting is that it uses real-life events and groundbreaking news as a backdrop of the story of how one goes about getting the news- by pounding the pavement, hitting the phones, doing the legwork, etc. Assange doesn’t do anything of the sort. He just tools about different places, plugging in his laptop and waiting for the information to come to him, and that just doesn’t make for a very exciting movie, though director Bill Condon does his best to make it visually interesting.
The story of WikiLeaks itself is fascinating, and there’s no denying that it has done some remarkable work in disseminating information in a way that has forever changed the landscape of how we go about getting our news, for better or for worse. I’m sure it would make for fascinating reading, and the documentary I saw was nothing if not intriguing. But as a movie, it’s just not that interesting watching people fiddle with their laptops for over two hours, you know what I mean?
Cumberbatch is fantastic here, no doubt about it, but his Assange is such a raging douche, you’re not sure whether you want to thank him for giving people a voice that wouldn’t otherwise have one or punch him repeatedly in the face. That’s a problem if you’re going to spend over two hours with the guy. I felt the same way about a similar kind of movie, The Social Network.
As with that movie, you do at least have one reasonably likable protagonist, Daniel Berg, as played by Daniel Brühl, hot off playing an a-hole based on a real guy himself, in Rush. Unfortunately, as with Network, you’re getting a similarly compromised version of events, told from someone with good reason to actively dislike the main character. If his take is to be believed, Assange wasn’t exactly the nicest guy to work with.
Ditto the others contributing from the newspaper The Guardian, given that Assange didn’t exactly do right by them, either, if this film is reasonably accurate. Of course, that’s just the thing: who knows how accurate any of this is?
But my job isn’t to fact-check the movie, it’s to review it, and I’m afraid, as entertainment, it just isn’t very good. The script isn’t very compelling, and the way the story is told is pretty meandering overall. The movie lacks focus, and suffers as a whole as a direct result, which is unfortunate, given the high caliber of the acting on display.
I feel somewhat inclined to let Bill Condon off the hook- at least it beats doing two Twilight movies back-to-back. (To his credit, they were the best in the series, but that’s like saying one piece of poop is slightly less sizable than another- its still poop, when all is said and done.) But mostly it’s because he’s done far more interesting work otherwise, including the superlative bio-pics Kinsey and Gods and Monsters, and even the reasonably entertaining musical Dreamgirls.
I’m afraid the material just doesn’t lend itself to a movie as much as you hope it would. Sometimes real-life stories don’t translate well to the big screen, or at the very least, to dramatizations, and this is no exception. So, unless you’re a die-hard Cumberbatch fan, you might want to forgo this one, and stick with the documentary We Steal Secrets instead. It’s unfortunate, because I wanted to like this one, but more often than not, I was checking my watch. As such, I can’t go any higher than a C+, and that’s if I’m being kind. Perhaps there’s still an interesting movie to be made about Assange and the WikiLeaks saga- but this isn’t it.