I said in my review that I found The Fifth Estate a worth while film, and that I was perplexed as to why the theater was so empty. Curious, I decided to investigate further and see what the internet had to say about the matter.
My first find was from Entertainment Weekly where Grady Smith wrote, “The Fifth Estate bombed in its opening weekend with a truly awful $1.7 million from 1,769 theaters, making it the worst debut for a film opening in at least 1,500 theaters this year.” An interesting figure, but not one that explains why no one came to the movie.
The second thing I found was a written exchange between Cumberbatch and Assange that took place before shooting began, where Cumberbatch wrote to Assange to request an interview for the sake of accurate characterization. Assange declined politely in a response letter, explaining that
“The bond that develops between an actor and a living subject is significant. If the film reaches distribution we will forever be correlated in the public imagination. Our paths will be forever entwined. Each of us will be granted standing to comment on the other for many years to come and others will compare our characters and trajectories.”
For this reason Assange declined the interview to emphasize the point that he did not support the film, and said that:
“There are dozens of positive books about WikiLeaks, but Dreamworks decided to base its script only on the most toxic … . I know the film intends to depict me and my work in a negative light. I believe it will distort events and subtract from public understanding.”
Perhaps that is the script’s intent, and Assange references a copy of the script (leaked to Assange and cross-referenced with the screening in Toronto released September 5, 2013) to confirm his points that the film is designed to mislead and defame Wikileaks.
This is still interesting information, which adds another layer of interest to the film, but it does not answer why the turnout was so bad.
As a story of a rebellious, even Jean Val Jean (Les Miserables) like, figure who fights an oppressive state for a simple freedom, it commented less on the corruption and toxicity of a grassroots new source, and more on the reality that power seeks to oppress. It shows a psychology of political preservation at work where one (powerful) body starts to feel threatened by a ‘weaker’ vessel then attempts to crush it through any means possible.
The Fifth Estate, provides a narrative that shows governments and figures of power attempting to demonize an entity because that entity could question the status quo with simple clicks of a button. It shows that those powers were embarrassed to be shown as human beings with secrets, agendas, and things that they want to keep from the public.
It’s a film that shows human beings with all the plodding tedium of day to day life, and it’s a show that should be watched for an exploration of character instead of driving plots.
Maybe the general audience wants to see plot, instead of character which could explain the poor reception. Another possibility is that the general audience has bothered following Wikileaks before the film, and so maybe they read Assange’s letter, and know about the books the film is based on, and don’t what to support an anti-Assange work; which would also explain the poor reception.
Then again, the film is only now entering its second week of showing and may yet find redemption as a gateway leading to the other voices telling the real story about the life and work of Julian Assange, and the growing power of the weak to fight the powerful.
Just something to think about,