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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Blu-ray Review
The Fifth Estate  (2013)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman

The Film
2 Stars
(Release Date: January 28, 2014) – Leading up to its October 2013 theatrical release, there was a lot of hype surrounding "The Fifth Estate," director Bill Condon's big-screen depiction of Julian Assange and the 2010 WikiLeaks scandal. When the picture premiered a month earlier at the Toronto International Film Festival, however, the muted reaction threw a wrench in Dreamworks' Oscar hopes. When it finally opened, no one seemed to care anymore. Two weeks later, it had all but vanished from theaters. "The Fifth Estate" is not a disaster—far from it—but it is understandable why it failed to capture an audience or much critical support. The movie looks great, with vibrant cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler and an eclectically pulsating music score by Carter Burwell. Additionally, the true-life story it tells will be informative to those not well-versed in WikiLeaks. Where "The Fifth Estate" stumbles is in Condon and screenwriter Josh Singer's inability to transform the material (adapted from the book "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website" by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and the Guardian article "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy" by David Leigh and Luke Harding) into an emotionally enthralling feature. Dramatically flat and lacking in the sharply observed characters one expects, the film just sort of sits there, looking smarter than it is with nowhere to go.

Depicting the rise and fall of Julian Assange (played with a calculated, steely-eyed determination by Benedict Cumberbatch) and his relationship with protégé Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl), the narrative spans a few years (2008 to 2010) as Assange's truth-seeking online organization becomes an incendiary sensation before coming under fire for a massive leak of 90,000 top-secret military records about the Afghan war. This is all well and good, but not half as insightful as it thinks it is. Assange remains a cipher, all the more frustrating for the weak attempt made to dig beneath his exterior to find how he became the person he is. When a pre-end credits postscript mentions accusations of sexual misconduct—to which he denied, despite the open admission that he slept with both alleged victims—it is news to the viewer that Assange was even sexually active at all. As portrayed here, he is an offbeat sort with virtually no life outside of his computer. Dragging on for 129 minutes, "The Fifth Estate" does not have enough substance or characters worth getting involved with to satisfy in the long run. Condon could have definitely learned a thing or two from David Fincher's similar, far superior "The Social Network." In that picture, the intelligent, egotistical Mark Zuckerberg might not have been likable, but he sure was imminently watchable and dynamic. As written here, Julian Assange is little more than a one-note creep.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

There are next to no complaints worthy of mention when it comes to the attractive 1080p transfer and solid DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with which "The Fifth Estate" flaunts. The photography, full of icy blues and warm reds, is rendered precisely as director of photography Tobias A. Schliessler intended. This is a spectacularly film-like visual treatment full of details one expects from a high-def new release, rounded off with the lightest layer of natural grain. As far as this writer's eyes could see, there was not a shred of dirt, banding, moire or DNR anywhere on the top-notch picture. As for the audio, the surround channels are mostly reserved for the active score. Otherwise, this is a predominantly dialogue-centric motion picture, with every line handled proficiently and clearly.

Blu-ray Features
Featurettes: "The Submission Platform: Visual Effects" (10:25, HD), "In-Camera: Graphics" (6:25, HD), "Scoring Secrets" (9:11, HD); Trailer & TV Spots (6:34, HD)

Bottom Line
"The Fifth Estate" is a one-and-done experience, and not a particularly impressive one at that. Dreamworks'/Touchstone's Blu-ray release comes through loud and clear and does not disappoint on an aesthetic level, but the film as a whole just isn't very successful. For anyone interested in the WikiLeaks scandal, it might be worth one's while to see it once, but repeat viewings won't be in the cards. For this reason, "The Fifth Estate" receives a rental recommendation at best, and only if its subject matter is of interest to the prospective consumer.

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© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman