Monday, November 4, 2013

The Fifth Estate (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Fifth Estate

Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Twilight Saga) no doubt has attempted an ambitious subject in the foundation of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. However, midway through "The Fifth Estate,"Condon springs a leak and the story quickly becomes a slumberous affair instead of a provocation.

We have the British heartthrob Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange who does well enough as the eerie, twitching and aloof anarchist who wants to both bring out the Truth and assail the government. He is part Mark Zuckerberg and a technocratic Andy Warhol. Despite the film's flaws, I will admit that for placing us within the mood  of Assange---- that of space and abstraction---Cumberbatch is excellent.

One sight of Assange at the computer,a pale specter, is all it takes to connect us. He has information embedded in ciphers that will wake up the American people about Afghanistan involving needless civilian murders. And this is compelling, if only the film could have maintained this signal.

"The Fifth Estate" loses its emotional intensity like the pouring of sleep through an hourglass by its jerky camera and its soporific techno jargon about redaction and emails and chat rooms, combined with the patchwork of some pedestrian graphics, illustrating the flow of binary code on laptops. In its plodding dialogue and merging of cyber codes, the film resembles a CSI episode more than a blockbuster about the realm of The Whistleblower. The film loses its engagement by focusing about the look of WikiLeaks rather than the mind of the man. There is so much zoom and drift between realms that this "Fifth Estate" seems more like a collage than a thoughtful expose. The film repeatedly shows a revolving corridor of desks and computers on a sandy beach and while I can appreciate a certain Dalinian intent here, the mundane speech about patching in and losing addresses bogs down the impact.

The best bits of the film, highlight the discontent between Assange's partner (Daniel Bruhl) and Assange himself as a frozen fish with only the release of documents on his mind. Also good are the small scenes that show Assange as a slinky amphibian, sequestering himself between the cracks and crevices of a hackers' workshop, soaking up information like a human Brillo pad, intently silver and efficiently pale. In one scene Assange is plastered along the wall of a nightclub---his face vibrating in neon pink and red. The days of Warhol, Lou Reed and even the garage quaintness of  Steve Jobs are over. We are in a new Velvet  Underground age where techies manipulate and pour over information like Liquitex paint as the new artists. If nothing else, this is what The Fifth Estate handles well.

For the most part, there is so much keystroking and digital scrambling, that the man Assange is lost in the method. The film tries too hard. Only a few key strokes is all that would have been needed to show this provocative man (dancing herky-jerky like a loose noodle overridden with work and fear) and not as he is perceived as a silent man in a screen.

In this case, less setting would have led to more power.

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