The rise and fall of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange is covered in intriguing if somewhat frenetic fashion in Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate. Dealing with the figurehead’s paranoiac fear of discovery counterbalanced by his increasing appetite for the spotlight and his full speed ahead approach to sharing secrets without regard to subsequent fallout, The Fifth Estate shows us glimpses of the man behind the curtain without ever fully allowing us to get inside his head. Condon presents a jazzy, fact-filled look at the creation of an information superpower and then shows us the downside of such power in the wrong hands. But the story, of course, as it now stands, is still incomplete.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 2 Hrs. 08 Mins.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copykeep case in a slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 01/28/2013
Crusader for (in his mind) all things right and honorable, Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) connects with computer programmer Daniel Berg (Dnaiel Brühl) to help him establish a website called WikiLeaks where whistleblowers from around the world can report malfeasance without fear of reprisals from those who have been reported. Over the next few years, the tireless Assange and Berg via WikiLeaks bring down several notoriously tainted enterprises and individuals, but the unending work takes a toll on Berg’s personal life with girl friend Anke Domscheit (Alicia Vikander). Berg tries to break away, but Assange’s needs constantly draw him back. However, when Julian gets his hands on a massive top secret flash drive which contains thousands of pages of classified U.S. intelligence and wants to post it on-line completely uncensored thus risking the lives of many innocent individuals in top secret positions, Berg objects and leaves forcing Julian to work with The Guardian’s Nick Davies (David Thewlis) and papers in New York and Berlin dangerously subverting many operations currently in progress.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
Part character study and part docudrama, Josh Singer’s screenplay is a bit piecemeal in both aspects. Julian Assange has proven such an enigmatic personality that one resists taking much that is shown here at face value (the script makes clear some of his stories to Berg were indeed fabrications to fortify his own mythology), and the story of WikiLeaks’ creation and ascension is far too complex to cover thoroughly in a two-hour film (though there is no denying the filmmakers give it a mighty effort, sometimes threatening information overload). Condon’s visual stylization of Assange as the be all/end all of WikiLeaks is certainly optically stunning though it tends to wear out its welcome as variations of it pop up continually during the course of the film (and the portrayal of its demise is more cliché than stimulating). Better are a plethora of visual graphic overlays and montages which simulate the worldwide information turnpikes that the internet has generated, all focusing on Assange as the keeper of the keys to a kingdom which, as one character puts it, you have the “head of a media empire who is accountable to no one,” thus sending a somewhat chilling tone through the film’s last quarter hour.
Benedict Cumberbatch certainly captures the quirks and qualms of the main character, and the curious dichotomy of his desire for anonymity while reveling in the celebration of what he has invented gets an excellent rendering from the very busy actor. Daniel Brühl’s role as Berg has none of the complexities and shades of unconventional behavior that dot Assange’s character. He does fine with a fairly standard stock heroic character-with-a-conscience. Several British and American actors offer solid performance in smaller, less well-defined roles: David Thewlis and Dan Stevens as newspapermen, Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci as U.S. government officials whose jobs are put in jeopardy by the revelations from WikiLeaks. Alicia Vikander is lovely to look at but given little to do as the put-upon girl friend who must steal whatever time she can get with Berg until she finally has had enough. Moritz Bleibtreu and Birgitta Jonsdottir each have an interesting moment or two as new recruits to the WikiLeaks family.
Winning an Information War
The film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The reference image quality is splendid throughout with expert sharpness that reveals much detail and very smooth and consistent color with accurate flesh tones. Black levels are very strong as well with contrast dialed in perfectly. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix keeps a constantly interesting array of ambient sounds flowing through the entire soundstage even with so much of the film taking place indoors. Carter Burwell’s incessantly thumping, driving score gives the movie the feel of a thriller with the music spread through the fronts and rears for maximum effectiveness. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
Audio Rating: 5/5
The Submission Platform (10:25, HD): a discussion of the film’s special effects, especially the WikiLeaks’ symbolic office motif, is discussed by director Bill Condon, production designer Mark Tidesley, writer Josh Singer, and special effects supervisors. They describe various visual ideas for the motif and how the final decision was realized.
Special Features Rating: 2.5/5
In-Camera Graphics (6:25, HD): director Bill Condon and production designer Mark Tidesley discuss how projections were used across the sets and the actors’ faces to add some visual allure without resorting to CGI.
Scoring Secrets (9:11, HD): composer Carter Burwell describes the various thematic ideas he had for the music for the film and describes how he reached out to other experts in tonalities to get him exactly the sound he wanted for the movie.
Trailers and TV Sports (6:34, HD): the theatrical trailer and seven TV spot ads can be watched together or separately.
Promo Trailers (HD): Delivery Man, Need for Speed, Thor: The Dark World.
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in case.
The Fifth Estate even with its few lapses is still an imminently watchable docudrama/quasi-thriller. With reference picture and sound, this Blu-ray will likely make an entertaining rental for those interested in the historical story or for those who are fans of the film’s very in-demand star.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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