Release Date: 11th October
Run time: 128 minutes
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci
Do you remember, three years ago, when the Guardian, New York Times and Der Spiegel printed leaked government documents given to them by Australian hacktivist Julian Assange?
Great. Because there’s a good chance you won’t remember this film in three years time. That’s not to say that The Fifth Estate is bad, just that there isn’t really anything in it that’s good.
Featuring a “so-hot-right-now” Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange (who has surely modelled himself on a Bond villain) and Daniel Bruhl as his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the film sketches the origins of Assange’s organisation WikiLeaks and its rise to prominence and notoriety. With a chilly visual style of steely greys and cobalt blues, it flirts with the aesthetic of modern spy movies (hello Jason Bourne) but ultimately tells the well-worn tale of idealism consumed by ego. In an attempt to make people talking in online chatrooms seem cinematic, director Bill Condon throws a lot of silly visual metaphors at the screen, before settling on the idea of realising the internet as one huge office filled with smug people typing.
The film tries to paint Assange as a complex and multi-layered character; but instead he is just unfathomable. It would seem that someone who leads people and institutions around like a cyber pied piper should be charismatic, but in The Fifth Estate this is not the case. Instead, he seems weirdly cold and distant, his monotonous antipodean accent and lank silver hair just affectations on a frustratingly hollow character.
Although it does feature a recreation of this earth-shattering moment
Cumberbatch struggles to lend any sense of gravity to proceedings and is reduced to several instances of desk thumping ACTING! to get any urgency across, while David Thewlis as Guardian journalist Nick Davies is perhaps the most on-the-nose character to appear on-screen this year. Not only does he deliver speeches which cover all of the thematic points of the film, he also gets to say the title of the film in one of these overbearing speeches. Just in case you weren’t paying attention.
There are a lot of earnest monologues about truth, and people burst into rooms in the middle of meetings regularly, but nothing is done with much imagination or flair and the details of the WikiLeaks story are thinned out to make room for an utterly pointless romantic sub-plot involving Bruhl’s character. Perhaps more troubling is the manner in which the film deals with allegations of sexual misconduct by Assange (it is briefly mentioned in a mid-credits coda) and the way that whistle-blower Chelsea Manning’s story is given such short shrift. The film doesn’t really work as either an investigation of the WikiLeaks story, or as a compelling character drama. It just muddles along. Julian Assange has decried the film as anti-WikiLeaks propaganda. It’s not quite as interesting as that.