Film review

The Fifth Estate


Acting was good, but there was neither structure nor narrative, and in the end, there were impressions and sketches that faded away soon. I felt that I have not learnt anything insightful about Wikileaks the organization or Julian Assange the person after leaving the cinema. Above all, I had no idea what this film wanted to convey. Did it have a message? Did it want to tell a story? What was this film about? Why was it made? Perhaps this was intentional, in being similar to Wikileaks, by dumping pieces of information, rather than making sense by packaging into or putting them into context in a narrative: construction of the narrative might have been the audience’s task, but if that had been the case, then I was the wrong type, because I am too lazy to do such. Even if I had been inclined to make something of the numerous building blocks, these pieces were not really substantial enough to build a structure.

The locations jumped around the world, from Kenya to Iceland, in a cloak-and-dagger way, adding I suppose to suspense, though it looked like scenes from a television series than something cinematic. Obviously this is an unfair characterization in that I cannot adequately explain what makes something cinematic, but it did not feel like a ‘proper’ film. The scenes depicted how Wikileaks operated in a haphazard episodic manner, in terms of its organizational structure, security, aim, and personnel. There were a few stories, but they remained unwoven into a coherent whole. They were interesting in their own right, and possibly could have been explored in more depth or in a better narrative: how Wikileaks operated with a very small number of people; ensuring the security of Wikileaks and protecting the anonymous source; different visions and driving forces behind Wikileaks and what it stands for; the relationships between those inside Wikileaks and the media.

Benedict Cumberbatch was masterful in portraying Mr Assange, who came across as neurotic, arrogant, and domineering. The film offered glimpses of personality or character traits of Mr Assange, without showing the whole personality or character. The following questions remained unanswered. Who is Mr Assange? What really drives him? What does he want to achieve? The accuracy of this portrayal of Mr Assange will be debated: many people have very strong opinions about Mr Assange, and this film is unlikely to change people’s minds. For those who believe that Mr Assange is being persecuted by various states and organizations, this film is yet another attempt to discredit him; for those who believe that Mr Assange is a self-centred and reckless person who endangers people’s lives and interests, then this film confirms their views.

Considering the topic, the personalities, the events, and the actors in it, I feel that it could and perhaps should have been a better film. Or it may be that this is an on-going story in the real world, and it is difficult to construct a good narrative, therefore it is not the time yet for this film.

PS: I was hoping Alan Rusbridger played by Peter Capaldi would regenerate into Malcolm Tucker half way through the film.