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The Fifth Estate(2013)
Through the eyes of Daniel Domscheit-Berg, an early supporter and eventual colleague of Julian Assange, the film follows the heady, early days of Wikileaks to its abrupt end after a series of controversial and history changing info leaks. The website's overnight success brought instant fame to its principal architects, but as their power expanded across the globe, Daniel grew increasingly disillusioned with Julian's questionable tactics and ethics. The rift between the two friends became irreparable and their ideological differences tore them apart, but not before they revolutionized, for better and worse, the flow of information to news media and the world at large.
For more about The Fifth Estate and the The Fifth Estate Blu-ray release, see the The Fifth Estate Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on January 23, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Alicia Vikander, Carice van Houten, Daniel Brühl, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci
Director: Bill Condon
» See full cast & crew
The Fifth Estate Blu-ray Review
"Two people and a secret: the beginning of all conspiracies."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, January 23, 2014
Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate is a strangely groggy, awkwardly generic Julian Assange biopic; a made-for-TV-quality misfire with aspirations of Social Network greatness destined instead to share bargain bin real estate with the likes of Dominic Sena's Swordfish and Peter Howitt's Antitrust. Benedict Cumberbatch is miscast as a stringy haired, marble mouthed Assange... or perhaps just underutilized, mismanaged or the victim of indecisive editing. (Cumberbatch isn't sure who Assange is, having admittedly changed his position on the WikiLeaks founder numerous times over the course of the production. But Assange knows who Assange is; a conflict between character and actor that leads to an uncharacteristically discordant performance from the typically reliable Cumberbatch.) Either way, discredit where discredit's due: Josh Singer's sporadic screenplay and Condon's uncertain direction. The Fifth Estate isn't sure what it wants to be, much less who it wants to focus on or how it wants to hack its way through its hydra-headed story. By film's end, Condon and company shrug their shoulders, extend their middle fingers at an already beleaguered audience and hide behind a faux interview with Assange, who says "if you want to know the truth, no one is going to tell you the truth. They're only going to tell you their version. If you want the truth, you have to seek it out for yourself." Ironically a send-off that undermines and diminishes the film and its portrayal of the WikiLeaks founder in one fell swoop.
Based on "WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website" by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy" by Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding, The Fifth Estate follows the Machiavellian rise of WikiLeaks founder to the global media stage and the events surrounding the controversial 2010 release of 90,000 classified U.S. documents (the Afghan War Logs), 400,000 classified U.S. military reports (the Iraq War Logs) and more than 250,000 U.S. State Department cables. The bulk of the film is built around Assange's three-year partnership with Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl), who joins Assange's team-of-one in 2007. At first, it's all roses. Assange and Berg changing the world. Soon, though, Berg watches as Assange's ego, pride and jealousy take control and turn the brilliant hacker into an international threat. Berg insists releasing hundreds of thousands of pieces of sensitive materials -- without proper redaction -- could put people's lives in danger. Assange insists the truth takes precedence. Playing exasperated referee is the traditional media, represented by The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger (Peter Capaldi) and journalist Nick Davies (David Thewlis). Playing the role of panicking U.S. government officials is White House staffer Sam Coulson (Anthony Mackie), undersecretary Sarah Shaw (Laura Linney) and her colleague James Boswell (Stanley Tucci, looking positively bored). Playing them all, of course, is Assange, who Cumberbatch injects with delirious brilliance and frightening childishness.
Cumberbatch and Brühl try their damnedest to mine the material for moments of honesty or insight, but the script never lives up to the real-life drama behind the story. Stilted and contrived, their dialogue is peppered with exposition, redundancy, over-acting and cutaway reaction shots; eye rolls and nose pinches, sneers and pursed lips; the kind of takes that usually wind up on the cutting room floor. The Fifth Estate is far more obvious than it thinks, moving with the labored burden of a behemoth struggling to take each step. Even Condon's attempt to visualize WikiLeaks' artificial online world falls flat, imagining a room of paper-laden desks manned by dozens of Assanges. It doesn't help that the film continually pulls away from the increasingly combative Assange and Berg, hopping between Davies (based on Thewlis' performance, the man who should have been front and center in Estate), Shaw (currently co-starring in the infinitely more interesting Thewlis-led movie brewing in my head) and a Libyan informant (Alexander Siddig) placed in mortal danger by Assange's looming release of classified documents. We're meant to feel suspense. Terror. Empathy. We're meant to be torn between the potential good of Assange's intentions and the potential harm of his impulse. After all, the Libyan informant is just one of thousands whose lives are possibly being put at risk. But, once again, the particulars -- the storytelling, pacing, camerawork, music... all the fundamentals -- are so telegraphed, so obvious, that these scenes of intense human theater fail to make much of an impact.
More distracting is the dullness of the film's edge and the arthritis impeding what could have been an involving alt-cult hacker groove. The Fifth Estate feels as if it were plucked from the late 1990s; stripping Iain Softley's Hackers of its cyberpunk puckishness and colorful paranoia and presenting the remaining gristly bits as a stuffy character melodrama. Carter Burwell's techno-dotted score desperately strives to infuse the film with a pulse, but it's no use. There isn't enough life on screen to bring the film to life. The scenes that do work -- those that exhibit a real, palpable pulse -- are those that so matter-of-factly present the fallout of Assange's leaks. The shifting opinions of the nation. Power-players scrambling to deal with their own dirty laundry. The sequences that introduce the new information-scape being created as secrets become more and more difficult to bury. (Although you know you're in trouble when the best thing about a movie is its montages.) It's in these all too brief interludes that the lines between reality, truth, Assange and The Fifth Estate blur and invite the curious along for a fascinating tour of a new order of journalists and journalism. It's in these moments that the film lives up to its namesake (Google "five estates of the realm" to investigate further) and engages beyond its own inert assemblage of disputed facts.
The Fifth Estate Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Fifth Estate features a fit and faithful 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation that rarely stumbles. Color and contrast are generally natural and lifelike, albeit with the occasional palette hack (teals and icy blues are popular) or stylistic tweak. Primaries are restrained but arresting too, black levels are deep and satisfying, and delineation is excellent. And detail? Edges are crisp and clean (with only a hint of intermittent ringing) and textures are revealing and well-resolved. Softness is apparent from time to time -- particularly during scenes that take place in the infinite offices of the WikiLeaks' artificial reality -- but only insofar as Tobias Schliessler's cinematography and the FX team's work dictates. A fine veneer of grain is present as well, while errant noise, artifacting, aliasing and banding are nowhere to be found. All told, it's a terrific presentation sure to please anyone who warms to the film.
The Fifth Estate Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is competent and capable, without any real issues to point to. Dialogue is clear, intelligible and neatly prioritized, and effects are clean and convincingly grounded in the mix. LFE output is solid, lending support whenever and wherever it's needed, and rear speaker activity is assertive and, at times, quite engaging. Directionality leaves a bit to be desired, but pans are smooth and the soundfield is suitably immersive, with believably busy city streets, crowded bars, bustling government offices, cramped apartments, hushed auditoriums and scrambling Guardian news floors. Dynamics are rewarding as well, and the entire track does a fine job with the by-the-basics sound design it's handed.
The Fifth Estate Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Fifth Estate Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Fifth Estate suffers with scattershot direction, slippery scripting and hit or miss casting, with Cumberbatch doing his best but succumbing to a mediocre screenplay and Condon's wishy washy vision. There are moments where Estate shows tremendous promise, but they're sadly few and far between. Disney's Blu-ray release is much better, with an excellent video presentation, strong DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and a decent (albeit short) supplemental package. There's potential for a sharper WikiLeaks film buried deep within The Fifth Estate. But with Assange's 15-minutes of fame fading fast, the question is whether anyone will care to watch the next Assange biopic if one is even greenlit.
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The Fifth Estate Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: The Fifth Estate - January 21, 2014
Blu-ray.com and Walt Disney Home Entertainment are offering five members the opportunity to win a copy of director Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, Daniel Brühl, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and Anthony Mackie. The ...
• The Fifth Estate Blu-ray - December 20, 2013
Walt Disney Home Entertainment has officially announced the Blu-ray release of director Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, Daniel Brühl, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and Anthony Mackie. The film offers a dramatic portrayal ...
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