The Fifth Estate

Courtesy of a preview screening for Guardian staff I got to see the Fifth Estate last night. The biggest point of reference is The Social Network with the script focussing on the relationship between Julian Assange and Daniel Berg. However whereas the Social Network focusses on friendship, loneliness and betrayal this film focuses on ambition, idealism and inspiration.

The film depicts Berg as someone in search of a purpose who finds a leader and a cause in Assange. The rest of the script plays out the consequences of success and the interplay of loyalty, obedience and belief in a radical political organisation.

The film tritely suggests that Assange’s childhood experience of being part of a cult and later trial for hacking (where his fellow defendants testified against him) is mirrored in how he structures WikiLeaks with Assange as the undisputed leader of an organisation centred unquestioningly around him.

The better parts of the film do a more nuanced job of representing how the strength of personality required to change the world in a radical, political way also manifest in the personality flaws of paranoia and arrogance.

All radical political movements are charismatic, disruptive and unstable. The Fifth Estate tries to contrast political achievement with personal cost but it feels laboured with the visual metaphors bludgeoning and the dialogue clunking.

There is also a massive problem in that “computer stuff” is just visually difficult to portray, like theoretical physics or philosophy. It’s primarily the internal workings of thought.

Really the most enjoyable part of the film are the central performances of Benedict Cumberbach and Daniel Brühl. Some of the photography is pretty good as well.

The script uses some heavy-handed techniques for showing that the leaks were not “victimless” but actually affected real people in difficult situations. The disconnection between actions and consequences for cyber-activists was worth addressing.

As for the depiction of the Guardian. Well naturally anything you know about always seems to be travestied when outsiders write about it and this is no different. Most of the journalism stuff seems clichéd. The film doesn’t capture any of the real debate about the nature of “citizen journalism” within the Guardian or the wider world of commercial journalism.

More weirdly though the presence of the Guardian feels irrelevant to the central themes of the film and therefore tends to drag on the plot. However in the real world the involvement of profession organisations was actually vital for turning the raw data into some explicable to a wider audience. That aspect of the story is some what glossed over or under-explained.


The Golden Compass

This is a great Christmas movie, sensibly adapted from the source material, sprinkled with good actors and great effects. The lead Dakota Blue Richards is a real find (although possibly you could have cast her just for the name alone) and gives a beautiful performance that is nuanced and convincing and makes her contempories in the film look terribly, terribly wooden.

Like all good Christmas movies theres a balance of light and dark and the constant menace at the edges keeps things tense and enjoyable although sometimes the pacing was too frantic.

I’m looking forward to the next installment already!


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I had the chance to see this film at the London Film Festival and I happy to confirm that it features beautiful photography, excellent performances from all the leads, nice period detail and that it is indeed very, very, very long indeed.

I dread to think what was in the original cut but while I can see a fantastic multi-disc DVD release for the whole thing there is a theatrical release that is 45 minutes long dying to be free from this film. We really do not need to see Nick Cave mugging for the cameras for example.

Acting from the entire cast is excellent and it reminded me of how often we are dependent on just one or two principals for our narrative. Here everyone has a role in recreating the post-Civil War era with its complex politics and its often simple personalities.

In the era of really long films this one is actually worth giving your time to. If you watched Cold Mountain for example you spent a lot longer for a lot less.