Movie Review: “The Fifth Estate”-Partial Truth and Quality

Written by Jesse Gelinas October 28, 2013

Benedict Cumberbatch is electric as Assange in "The Fifth Estate"

History and headlines have always made for easy Hollywood bait; in recent years, this trend has really been on the rise. With “Zero Dark Thirty”, “The Social Network”,”Captain Phillips”, and others of their ilk cleaning up at the box office (and award shows), it’s not hard to see why. However, not every story can capture the hearts and imaginations of a generation. Unfortunately, Bill Condon’s WikiLeaks film, “The Fifth Estate”, falls into this category. It’s not that the subject isn’t fascinating, or the story exciting and tense, but sometimes a headline snatching film just isn’t as good as its subject matter deserves.

The world needs to know!

The film follows Wikileaks founder, Julian assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and his partner/employee, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl). The eary days of the website are briefly explored before moving on to their more noteworthy scandals and accomplishments. These include the indictment of Julius Baer, as well as the diplomatic cables leaked by Bradley Manning. The story does jump around quite a bit, and comes to a complete halt at some odd times, but for the most part its coherent and easy to follow.

“This is about you… and a little about me.”

The main problem is that the film is a tad too ambitious. WikiLeaks has a lot of history and context and the film’s running time just doesn’t allow for that kind of coverage. We get time jumps of a few weeks, then months, and soon a couple years go by and we’ve only been shown a bare skeleton of history. No fat, but not a lot of meat either. The areas we do get focus are the issues NO ONE could possibly care about in a WikiLeaks movie. Did you know Daniel Berg’s girlfriend became unhappy and moved out? Neither did I. I didn’t care to look it up, because it’s not important. The writers think it is.

The WikiLeaks team in "The Fifth Estate"

Stylistically the film makes some odd choices. The scenes depicting Wikileaks infrastructure as an endless plane of computers with no one at the helm was both telling, and confusing. Especially when the CGI set becomes a bit overused (particularly in the film’s climax). The otherworldly effects are also out of place in an otherwise visually mundane film. Everything else is just sort of bland.

“He’s not a journalist. He’s a threat to national security.”

Speaking of bland and mundane, the acting on almost all fronts is just so… generic. None of the supporting cast stands out as memorable, or even particularly good. Daniel Bruhl (who I’m actually quite a fan of) is so flat and uninteresting that I found myself bored with him early on. Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci do their best with what little they’re given, but it’s not much. David Thewlis is also criminally underused.

The film’s only real shining light is Benedict (“Sherlock fuckin Holmes”) Cumberbatch. The man steals every scene he’s in (though to be fair, it’s like candy from babies who can’t act), and brings true gravitas and depth to Assange’s persona. It’s an almost flawless performance that sadly, deserved a much better vehicle in which to be showcased. In a better film, he may have been in talks for Oscar season.

Linney and Tucci do little to save "The FIfth Estate"


As I said, some films just don’t do the headlines justice. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, love them or hate them, changed the landscape of today’s political and social media realms. “The Fifth Estate” won’t be remembered a year from now, other than as that movie that stopped a better WikiLeaks film from being made. Cumberbatch has once again proven himself a damn fine thespian, but he better be more careful in the roles he chooses from now on. His BBC fans may love him to the end, but Hollywood can be a little less forgiving.

My Rating: 5.5/10

theatrical poster for "The Fifth Estate"

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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