Cert: 15 Runtime: 128 mins Director: Bill Condon Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Peter Capaldi, David Thewlis, Carice van Houten and Stanley Tucci
Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. But if you give him a mask, he will tell you the truth
The story begins as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) team up to become underground watchdogs of the privileged and powerful. On a shoestring, they create a platform that allows whistle-blowers to anonymously leak covert data, shining a light on the dark recesses of government secrets and corporate crimes. Soon, they are breaking more hard news than the world’s most legendary media organizations combined. But when Assange and Berg gain access to the biggest trove of confidential intelligence documents in U.S. history, they battle each other and a defining question of our time: what are the costs of keeping secrets in a free society-and what are the costs of exposing them? You know what they say – you wait for a bus and then two come along at once. After causing a media frenzy in recent years, Julian Assange and his whistleblowing website WikiLeaks have found their way to the big screen this year, twice. Earlier in the year, the documentary ‘WikiLeaks: We Steal Secrets’ was released to highly positive reviews and a lengthy complaint from Assange himself. Now, we have Bill Condon’s dramatic (and according to some, heavily fictionalised) account of the history of the now-infamous website and its founder. Similarly to aforementioned documentary, ‘The Fifth Estate’ has notably been objected by Assange, who wrote to lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch outlining why he shouldn’t take the role or have any part in the film.
Despite this, Cumberbatch didn’t, instead delivering an excellent and nuanced performance that never feels like an impersonation. On the flipside, Cumberbatch is far-and-away the best thing in the film.That’s not to imply that ‘The Fifth Estate’ is a bad film by any means, it’s just that it’s regularly flat and occasionally boring. Many have compared it to David Fincher’s 2010 masterpiece ‘The Social Network’ and the similarities do exist (the foundation of a revolutionary website involving two different people who eventually fall out over said site), but the difference is that this film lacks the spark and most importantly, the compelling dialogue of the latter. When making a film such as this centred on dialogue, it is imperative to make the talk as gripping as possible, but despite trying their best, the conversations here are only sporadically attention-grabbing. Additionally, the sequences set inside the ‘cyberspace’ feel out-of-place and don’t work at all.The film has good intentions and attempts to raise some interesting questions, as it successfully manages not to show favour to any side of the WikiLeaks argument, even going so as far as questioning the film itself, as we see Cumberbatch’s Assange dismissing it in an interview. As well as Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl is very good as Assange’s partner Daniel Domscheit-Berg, while David Thewlis is as usual, a pleasure to watch, here playing the best on screen Guardian journalist since Paddy Considine in ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’. Overall though, the film is not as good as its star – it’s a plodding and unremarkable account of one of the biggest new stories in recent history.