The story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks has been thoroughly publicized, and yet inexplicably unknown by the masses. I was just talking to a friend about this, as well. Apparently, plenty of people left the screening midway or trudged through it, veering into sleep. Let me first say that The Fifth Estate is by no means so boring that you might sleep. Actually, it’s not really boring ever. And, sure, it might be hard to keep up and it might be a bit disorienting, but only if you don’t have the slightest knowledge of the entire — dare I call it? — scandal.
If you’re a person who happens to flip on the news, let’s say, once every six months, then I think you shouldn’t have a problem following along.
The Fifth Estate tells the story about WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberatch) and his partner in (sometimes) crime Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl). You can probably guess how this plays out: Computer hacker meets computer hacker. Assange stretches out some truths to eventually become lies. Stuff gets real, and eventually they grow distant. If it sounds like the plot of The Social Network, then thank goodness I’m not alone in that comparison.
It certainly reminded me of the Aaron Sorkin/David Fincher film, but unfortunately, it doesn’t have the Social Network‘s command of dialogue or screen. Some quotables are downright cringe-worthy in the worst way (“Do you remember the last time we had sex?”) and some creative liberties are distracting (they create an alternate, Matrix-like room to represent the “office” in the cloud that is WikiLeaks and it’s just annoying). That said, Bill Condon does work the entire movie quite well. It’s slick.
But dammit if I’m not compelled to watch egomaniac hackers who love to make everything about themselves. Assange is a fantastic character, and a better villain; Cumberbatch is absolutely fantastic playing him, never once making Assange a caricature or feeding off some impersonation. This was a full-fledged character here, and the ambiguities of his moral compass, and that of the entire film, is one of The Fifth Estate‘s saving graces.
Ultimately, however, I don’t think The Fifth Estate rises above a retelling of a story we all know (or at least I thought we all knew). Those ambiguities are issues the entire public dealt with during the ordeal and still have discourse about. Fifth Estate does nothing but reintroduce them. At times it veers a bit more heavily on vilifying Assange, but never really makes its mark either way.
Then again, it is entertaining, especially if you’re interested in the hacker/free-information variety of thrillers. I promise I never even shifted in my seat during the two-hour run time.
Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Josh Singer (Adapted Screenplay); Based on the books by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and David Leigh & Luke Harding.
Also stars: Alicia Vikander, Anthony Mackie, Stanley Tucci, David Thewlis and Laura Linney.
Wide release: October 18, 2013