Review #43 The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate

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Director: Bill Condon.

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Carice Van Houten, David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi, Dan Stevens.

Running Time: 128 minutes.

Certificate: 15.

Synopsis: THE FIFTH ESTATE – named after the emergence of a new type of online journalism which separates itself from the ‘fourth estate’ or the mass media – is the story of one of the most controversial figures to cross politics and journalism, Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch). The Australian is the founder of the website WikiLeaks, which seeks to publish confidential information supposedly in the name of the greater good.

THE FIFTH ESTATE focuses on Assange and WikiLeaks’ media spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl), whose book ‘Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website’, is the partial basis of the movie. The adaptation of events is incredibly thorough in parts, specifically on the technicalities of how WikiLeaks works, as well as the turbulent relationship between Assange and Domscheit-Berg, who went by the pseudonym ‘Daniel Schmitt’ whilst working on the website.

A relationship that was very rocky to say the least, Assange becomes more and more self involved whilst treating Schmitt awfully. At times, sexual chemistry is teased between the two and feels a little out of place, but Assange is a strange character whom Schmitt places on a pedestal, despite his abysmal treatment. Oscars have already been hinted at for Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Assange. Playing the oddball character is his specialty, and his interpretation of Assange is spot on, not least due to his thin, shoulder-length, white hair, mannerisms and soft Australian accent. Similarly, Daniel Brühl’s acting is top-notch as always, introducing some members of the audience to the other brains behind the Wikileaks story who they have never heard of.

Disappointingly, despite the great plot, there are a few flaws in the film. When Assange is explaining how Wikileaks works technologically, the movie flits to a scene with Assange sitting in a room full of computers. At first this seems like a slick way of explaining WikiLeaks, but this devicesoon becomes tedious and drawn-out. The issue of language is also a slightly sloppy aspect for a film that in many other ways is so sharp, with a mixture of English subtitles and mother tongue mixed up to confusing effect.

THE FIFTH ESTATE is a solid film which explains one of the most interesting and current issues, with WikiLeaks being linked most recently to the cases of Edward Snowden and his leaked NSA documents and Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, who was sentenced for leaking over 200,000documents to Assange. However, perhaps THE FIFTH ESTATE focuses too much on plot and Cumberbatch’s perfect mimicry of the egotistical Australian, and ignores the smaller idiosyncratic issues that grate on the audience. The film is full of quick soundbites and highly emotive issues, yet we don’t truly know how impartial the film is. As Assange rightly says, the truth is subjective; “Everyone will tell you their own version.”

Three stars.

 THE FIFTH ESTATE is released in UK cinemas on Friday 11th October.