The Fifth Estate takes on what is possibly the most compelling story of the past few years. Indeed, the concepts of citizen journalism, freedom of information and whistleblowing has taken over public consciousness since Wikileaks leaked various explosive documents to the public a few years ago. When news of the film version came out, despite Julian Assange’s protestations, the potential to really understand how Wikileaks ascended to their heights and how they produced their massively influential documents was highly intriguing.
Based on books (full disclosure – I’ve never read the book) by previous Wikileaks employees, it instead chose to delve deeper into the psychology of Julian Assange and his relationship with, in particular, Daniel Berg. Even when accepting the premise of the story, the movie failed to deliver on the psychological/inter-relational thriller that it purported to do. In essence, the movie failed in this regard because of two reasons.
First, there was very little corroboration of the events and the details that Berg wrote about Assange, leaving it to be a one-sided memoir that lacks the gravitas of believability. While giving credit to Assange’s genius and his ability to inspire cult-like loyalty, it never veered from painting Assange as narcissistic, needy and without scruples. Alternatively, it never veered from portraying Berg as a true revolutionary, consistent with his morals and the common good. While both may be true to an extent, the lack of depth given to these characters turned them into caricatures of who they probably truly are.
Second, the movie failed to deliver the psychological/inter-relational thriller simply because it lacked the force of good storytelling. Scenes did not seem like they followed a particular or logical flow. Dialogue between the characters was stilted at best and comical at worst. The most egregious offense in this regard was the attempt to humanize Assange through his back story, with Cumberbatch forced to bring up non-sequitur memories of his childhood at inopportune times, rife with clichés.
To be fair, the well-picked cast all portrayed their characters to the best of their abilities. It is their performances that salvage the movie, somewhat. In particular, note the strong performances of Daniel Bruhl, Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci.
The Fifth Estate is a self-serving and one-sided look at the Wikileaks story, which would be forgivable if the film was not as bland and poorly-scripted as it was. While it features a great cast, and good performances from them all, The Fifth Estate feels less like a story and more like a hodgepodge of specific memories and maybe even some delusions. The film benefits from taking on one of the most interesting and impactful stories of this generation – Wikileaks – but squanders the opportunity to tell a great story or make a great film.
The Star Trek franchise, ever since The Original Series aired, has always been entertainment ahead of its time. It tackles complex moral issues while also envisioning a better world. What it was not, however, was well-written or massively popular to the public. The great achievement of JJ Abrams has been to compellingly tell a tale that resonates both with the die-hard fans and with the regular moviegoing public looking for the next great big blockbuster.
He does so in a number of ways. Abrams brings back a number of familiar characters, others being more well-known than some. He keeps the core of the relationships between the bridge crew intact, even bolstering it in some areas. He maintains the basic tenet of good versus evil but manages to add complexity to it that was absent from the original series. At the same time, he is not afraid to infuse the film with the more modern, pop-culture, one-liner comedy style of this time. In this way, Star Trek, while still remaining true to its core, is able to compete story-wise with such successes as The Avengers.
Visually, Star Trek is stunning. The 3D is used in a meaningful way – something I find to be very rarely done. The Enterprise is shiny, sparkly and futuristic – a ship that you would want to travel space in. Scenes shot to look like space did not seem kitschy or green-screened (even if they obviously were).
The acting, as well, is fantastic across the board. Chris Pine is quite good as Kirk, being able to play the brash playboy and the selfless leader equally well. Simon Pegg was one of the best parts of the film playing Scotty – the rare comic relief who added to the story rather than annoyed the audience. But the two standouts have to be Zachary Quinto, reprising his role as Spock, and Benedict Cumberbatch, the (unnamed for this post) villain in Into Darkness. Quinto always manages to portray the emotionless Spock as someone to empathize with and understand, not a small task given the required limit to his emotional range. Meanwhile, Cumberbatch is one of the more fearsome, complex and indestructible characters in the Trek universe. It would be difficult to find anyone who could play that better than Cumberbatch did.
In remaining true to its roots while also appealing to the larger audience, in being able to poke fun at itself while still keeping the honesty and earnestness so rife in the Trek universe, in embracing the old and the new alike, Star Trek: Into Darkness is the rare masterpiece that avoids becoming a conundrum. JJ Abrams’ second instalment in the Trek universe is aesthetically pleasing, well-plotted and broadly appealing. It is also the most cohesive and entertaining film of the year thus far.