The Videogum Movie Club: The Fifth Estate

Well, no one saw The Fifth Estate this weekend. It had the worst debut of 2013, making only $1.7 million from 1,769 theaters. (It cost $26 million to produce.) (Eek!) There was only one other person at my screening, even though my movie theater recently replaced its bed buggy cloth seats with seemingly non-bed buggy plastic seats. You’d think that would really draw in some butts! But not even a combination of Benedict Cumberbatch the idea of a bed bug free environment could bring butts and eyes to The Fifth Estate. And all of this brings me to the fairly large elephant in the room: DOES NO ONE FOLLOW THE RULES OF VIDEOGUM MOVIE CLUB ANYMORE? $1.7 million?! What is that divided by all of you guys? I paid $14 for my screening IN A BED BUG THEATER, (all theaters are bed bug theaters), which is ridiculous, but at least I did my part. Where were you guys? Seeing 12 Years A Slave? Uh, that’s not the movie that I agreed with myself to make you guys see because of how difficult it would be for me to write a joke review of 12 Years A Slave! Ridiculous. Just completely ridiculous. You guys are all a bunch of Daniel Bergs at the end of the movie. (Making me Julian Assange.) (WE’LL LET HISTORY DECIDE WHO WAS CORRECT.) Speaking of the movie, it was bad! Let’s talk about it!

The Fifth Estate follows Daniel Domscheit-Berg (née Schmitt) as he falls under the spell of a long-haired Julian Assange in 2007, makes some WikiLeaks with him, and takes a girl to dinner, all the way until he falls out of the spell of a short-haired Julian Assange in 2010, blocks some WikiLeaks, and (I assume) gets to take that girl to dinner some more. Oh, do they have their ups and downs. The real Julian Assange made his position on the movie clear in an open letter to Benedict Cumberbatch (and in other places), explaining that it would portray him in an unfairly negative light, as it was “based on a deceitful book by someone who has a vendetta against me and my organisation” He said, “It will resurrect and amplify defamatory stories which were long ago shown to be false.” And, well, unfortunately for the film, he wasn’t quite correct! One of the major faults of The Fifth Estate is that it tries to give both Assange and those against him their fair shake — or, I guess, the fault is that it tries to do so and, in trying, fails at saying much about either side.

Things get lost. The movie opens in 2010, as Der Spiegel, The Guardian, and The New York Times are about to publish The War Logs,  then flashes back to Daniel Berg’s first days in the organization, and then we go from there. We’re introduced to a Julian Assange that feels like a guess at how we all might think of him — captivating, inspiring, paranoid, weird. Benedict Cumberbatch does well in his portrayal, we never quite get a good handle on who Assange is, or who The Fifth Estate wants him to be. (I assume this was done on purpose, or at least done because Daniel Berg’s book, Inside Wikileaks, on which the movie is partly based, casts him as more of an unknowable figure. But The Fifth Estate takes a lot of liberties. Making Assange into a fully-formed character would have been a good liberty to take!)

Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie, and Stanley Tucci are introduced in the role of The US Government somewhere down the line, and there’s a brief, muddled, look into the life of a source who has to get smuggled across a boarder after his name is WikiLeaked. The message — if there ever intended to be one — about privacy, or the truth, or blame, or corruption, or hair dye, or the sock on the door policy, gets lost in details that are never fleshed out.

Also The Fifth Estate FOR SURE looked like it was made as a 1992 period piece, or AT THE VERY LEAST as though it was made in a pre-The Social Network world. Blasting techno music to denote hacking? Those shots of the digital work space — the dimly-lit room full of empty desks? When Daniel Berg smashed that room up?! And THAT TITLE SEQUENCE? (Remember the beginning of this year’s Emmy’s, with Neil Patrick Harris watching clips of the year’s television shows in that room with all the TVs? That was similar to, yet better than, the opening title sequence of The Fifth Estate!) ALL OF THE THINGS THAT THEY TRIED TO DO TO MAKE TYPING INTERESTING?

(I am actually not of the mind that watching people type in a movie can never be interesting. It was even interesting and exciting in The Fifth Estate sometimes! But boy oh boy did they try to make it seem exciting in all the wrong ways.) This was, unfortunately, a bad movie. THE WAARLD NEEDS TO KNEEWWRR. It had some good parts. It sometimes did well in making the spread of information over computers exciting, which has to be an incredibly difficult thing to do. Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl were both good. The whole gang watching the US military helicopter firing on unarmed reporters? That was a good scene. All of the few scenes in which women got to talk? Those were bad scenes. (“Take a girl to dinner?”) Ending the movie by saying, “Only a man with so many secrets could be so focused on sharing the secrets of others,” or whatever, as if that was what you were trying to say the whole time, which it was not, and would have been watery and pointless even if it were? That was a bad way to end the movie.

I guess you just have to wait until something ends in order to make a movie about it. Or, if you going to make a movie about it, maybe only make that movie if you have something to say. Just a suggestion! I don’t make movies, my The Fifth Estate movie would have been much worse. But at least I didn’t lose millions of dollars! I at least have that on you, The Fifth Estate! Anyway: DID ANYONE SEE THIS? IF YES: WHAT DID YOU THINK? ARE YOU THERE, JULIAN? ARE YOU THERE, JULIAN? ARE YOU THERE, JULIAN?