‘I’ ON CULTURE
People eagerly waiting for a good film about computers and hacking will be terribly disappointed by The Fifth Estate. There are some movies that should never be made, and this one will be high up on the list. Despite being directed by William Condon (Chicago, Dreamgirls, Gods and Monsters), it is dull and almost pointless.
The term “fifth estate” comes as a secondhand reference to America’s media working as the “fourth branch of government” or “the fourth estate,” a balance wheel for the rest of government. After all, if the government misbehaves in some way, the intrepid men and women of the media will immediately point out flaws. For some reason, there are many in America who have trouble accepting that particular maxim right now. The idea behind this film is that there is another group, a handful of intrepid hackers, who will bring the truth to the masses.
You might expect this movie to be a paean to the Tea Party, but, no, the people arguing for the essential corruption of the American government are actually of the left wing. This is the story of WikiLeaks, the people who presented 750,000 American documents about the war in Afghanistan, making certain that the Taliban would know exactly who was working with our soldiers there.
The film focuses primarily on Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl), who created the WikiLeaks organization from scratch. There are never very many people in it. Essentially, the two men are hackers who work hard to recruit others, many of whom actually are on the inside of key organizations, and thus have access to huge numbers of documents.
Unfortunately, watching people sitting for long hours at computers is not much more exciting than watching paint dry. Most hacker movies and TV shows in recent years show fancy holograms and cutting-edge technology and keep it short to prevent viewers from falling asleep. This movie eschews such escapes.
Another problem is that the hackers seemed not quite certain of what they were actually doing. Assange, more than a bit of a bore, was ready to take down anyone he could no matter what the actual cost to others, while his partner, Somscheit-Berg, actually had a bit of a conscience. The debate, a rather boring one, was won by Assange, although Somscheit-Berg managed to prevent even more damage. The most dramatic line in the film is his accusation to Assange that the man does not accept the people who would be damaged as real. As portrayed, it seems accurate; Assange seems almost psychopathic.
Of course, we also have to deal with the discomfort of knowing that the Walt Disney Co., which released the film, is quite supportive of the fact that the espionage was almost totally directed at the United States and its allies. In this movie, the U.S. government is the villain. It would have been more appropriate for them to be more critical of the government, rather than anoint a critic of theirs as a hero.
Not surprisingly, other nations, particularly ones whose ideas of liberty are very different from ours, were quite accepting of those notions. Ed Snowden, one of Assange’s recruits, now lives in Russia. He and his father both have declared it to be far freer than America. And Bradley Manning, who supplied the documents, is now spending the next 30-some-odd years in a U.S. military prison. Assange, himself, has asked for and received political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, not for espionage, but to escape charges of a sexual assault in Sweden.
The actors are basically stick figures, pouring out lines that have no real passion. Everyone in the film should fire their agents for putting them into this mess.
This is one film to miss. Frankly, I cannot even recommend it for seeing on DVD or cable. The people who made the film should be ashamed of themselves, not particularly for their notions of freedom but for the casual sloppiness they have handed out, requesting we reimburse them.