The Social Network was a terrific movie, so I can understand why the filmmakers behind The Fifth Estate tried to copy the David Fincher template. Take two computer nerds, one earnest and filled with integrity, the other goal oriented and slightly autistic, give them a homoerotic relationship and add a world changing website which will be the third member of their platonic love triangle.
Instead of Facebook, The Fifth Estate’s website is WikiLeaks, which made the news as a whistle blower for corrupt governments and organizations. Julian Assange, a mad, white haired Australian who looks like Mike Myers from Sprockets, seduces Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a German computer expert, to drop whatever he is doing and follow his commands to make their site a place that allows confidentiality for individuals and transparency for organizations. When the movie focuses on the relationship between these two idealists, The Fifth Estate is a great movie. The two actors show a real chemistry, but far too often in the movie’s second half the attention veers from the charismatic lead actors.
The Fifth Estate tries to show the many sides to the “complex” issues that WikiLeaks publishing unedited classified government documents represented. And so we have scenes with the mainstream press fretting over whether the internet has made them dinosaurs. Worse we have to spend time with Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci as government employees worried about their spies’ identities being leaked. These scenes slow down the movie and are the equivalent of The Social Network wasting time with scenes of the executives at MySpace and Friendster bitching about Facebook.
Whether technology infringes or enhances our liberties is an interesting issue, but the movie gives it short shift. It gives a lot of attention to showing what Assange and WikiLeaks did was dangerous, but never takes the time to question whether we should have a government so reliant on secrets. (At the very least a movie that showcases an organization that believes information should be free shouldn’t have an anti-pirating commercial beforehand.)
But maybe that would have been even more of a distraction of what does work in the movie, the relationship between these two oddballs. When they discuss philosophies and when Domscheit-Berg discovers just how crazy Assange is, the movie touches the greatness of The Social Network, but when it loses its specificity you find yourself wanting to change your Facebook status to unimpressed.