“The Fifth Estate” – Review by Laurie Coker

The Fifth Estate Review

by Laurie Coker

Benedict Cumberbatch impresses in spite of his one-dimensional character, while The Fifth Estate falls fatally flat. I truly do not know what else to say. Director Bill Condon manages to create a film about government secrets, deadly lies, and the power of technology and turn it, not into a film of intrigue, but rather one filled with dull details, mixed and misplaced metaphors, and uncaptivating characters, including that of Cumberbatch.

It offers a fictionalized version of the real-life, well-known case of WikiLeakes founder Julian Assange (Cumberbatch), a man who dared to post millions of classified documents online – and not just any documents, his “leaks” of classified information that might have potentially compromised national security and perhaps placed people in harm’s way. The way Condon tells it, Assange, a brilliant mathematician, was little more than a self-aggrandizing scalawag – with more emotional issues than judiciousness. In spite of his original idea to help whistleblowers find their voices through anonymity, according to this telling, Assange’s arrogance took control, and he released information that cost jobs and perhaps even lives — straying, it seems, from the site’s original intent to expose corruption.

As noted, Cumberbatch plays Assange with as much passion as is possible with a character so limited in range. Assange’s off-putting and somehow still beguiling personality fills each scene with Cumberbatch’s substantially creepy portrayal, but even as I can appreciate the effort, I found little interesting about the character as the story unfolded. Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney offer up excellent performances as government officers who suffer in the wake of the WikiLeaks but are actually afforded little screen time.  It’s Daniel Brühl as Daniel Burg, Assange’s partner, who gets a good deal of our attention. Burg appears somewhat of a moral compass to Assange, especially as he grows more and more erratic and unpredictable.

Perhaps one of the problems lies in the fact that Josh Springer did not base his screenplay on one source, but rather on two: Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy by David Leigh and Luke Harding. With so much information and material to cover, Springer crams more stuff than necessary or interesting into his telling.

Before the screening, the chatter around me appeared hopeful, but as we exited, most of us seemed unsatisfied and let down. I personally hoped for a story of intrigue and suspense, and while Condon tries, he loses himself and his film in the effort — especially when he infuses unnecessary and ineffective visual metaphors into the film, which make it even more lackluster. From me it earns a D.

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