FIFTH ESTATE, THE
The story begins as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) team up to become underground watchdogs of the privileged and powerful. On a shoestring, they create a platform that allows whistle-blowers to anonymously leak covert data, shining a light on the dark recesses of government secrets and corporate crimes. Soon, they are breaking more hard news than the world's most legendary media organizations combined. But when Assange and Berg gain access to the biggest trove of confidential intelligence documents in U.S. history, they battle each other and a defining question of our time: what are the costs of keeping secrets in a free society - and what are the costs of exposing them?
Review by Louise Keller:
It tries to pack in far too much material, but where The Fifth Estate is spectacularly successful is in leaving an impression of the character and duplicitous morals of WikiLeaks founder and self-hailed celebrity, Julian Assange. Bearing in mind that the source material from which Josh Singer's screenplay is written is in part based on Daniel Domscheit-Berg's book, through whose eyes the story is told, it is not surprising that the portrait painted is an unflattering one. Especially as Berg and Assange had an ugly falling out. It is chameleon Benedict Cumberbatch's extraordinary performance as Assange that etches the indelible character - depicting an arrogant, insufferable character that is fascinating in a rather repulsive way, his trademark white hair forming a curtain of mystery over his right eye. English-born Cumberbatch's Australian accent is convincing and flawless.
There is a constant sense of motion and quickness of pace about the proceedings, including camerawork that is constantly on the go. It's as though we are caught up in the claustrophobic web that WikiLeaks creates, filled with smoke and mirrors, lies, exaggerations and misrepresentations. From the outset, it is clear that irrespective of any grandiose ideas about revealing the truth or a version of it ('You can change the world with a single idea'), it is always about Assange himself, the ultimate show pony.
Daniel Brühl, highly effective as Nicky Lauder in Rush, is excellent as hacker Daniel Berg, who enters the WikiLeaks rink as a naïve idealist. The way Berg's role is described by his girlfriend Anke (Alicia Vikander) is that of being the line in the essential boundary that Assange needs. The rest of the cast is strongly representative - including David Thewlis as The Guardian journalist who helps elevate Wikileak's status and Laura Linney as a White House official concerned with exposure of the diplomatic cable content. Unlike Alex Gibney's 2013 excellent doco We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, little focus is given to Bradley Manning, the star whistleblower, although the military logs form the launchpad for the film's climax.
Frustratingly, there is no mention or clarification of how Assange, Berg and the others manage to finance their perpetual travels to here there and everywhere (London, Washington, Norway, Iceland etc) and the depiction of the technical side of things show computers that always work, connections that never fail and the kind of internet perfection that is wishful thinking. At least from my experience.
The film is so busy that it feels much too long but Cumberbatch's wonderfully created Assange is certainly worth seeing.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The complexity of the underlying issues that Julian Assange and his activities represent continues to defy neat explanations, not least Assange himself. Given that this screenplay is adapted from the book by his once partner (his ex in the crusade) Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl), it is neither a hagiography nor a bucket job. Much like Alex Gibney's We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (released in Australia in July this year, 2013), the filmmakers try hard to shed light on the public figure in a private way.
Benedict Cumberbatch is fetching as Assange, and he manages to sound convincingly similar; he also captures the mannerisms. But more importantly, he conveys the deadpan egotism and edgy self promotion, coupled with a fervent belief in his own messianic status. The odd thing is that above those traits, Assange is both intelligent and has a convincing case for transparency. It's just that he also has a couple of blind spots that make his vision tragically impaired.
Daniel Brühl is superb as Berg, an earnest and sincere addition to the one-man Assange team, until he baulks at Assange's callous disregard for consequences, and the key supports all deliver: Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci as senior White House executives and Moritz Bleibtreu as Marcus, another Assange insider who sides with Berg. David Thewlis and Peter Capaldi shine as editors at The Guardian, and Alicia Vikander is terrific as Berg's girlfriend Anke.
As for the all important computer work, with the dozens of large screens oozing data, one has to marvel at the absence of crashes, glitches, password malfunctions and delays; in this world, every text message, every entry and every international phone call on mobiles works perfectly and rapidly. I wish.
It's the frenzied filmmaking I object to, both in terms of incoherent storytelling and camera work, as well as editing and on screen graphics, all pumped up even more by a soundtrack on steroids. It's only in the final third of the film that it comes together and coalesces into a study of both the man and the phenomenon. It feels as though director Bill Condon wanted to be fair to Assange, but not blind to his flaws.
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FIFTH ESTATE, THE (M)
CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Carice van Houten, Peter Capaldi, David Thewlis, Maurice Bleibtreu, Anthony Mackie, Stanley Tucci, Alexander Siddig, Laura Linney, Anatole Taubman, Alexander Beyer, Philip Bretherton, Dan Stevens, Jamie Blackley
PRODUCER: Steve Golin, Michael Sugar
DIRECTOR: Bill Condon
SCRIPT: Josh Singer (books by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, David Leigh, Luke Harding)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tobias S. Schliessler
EDITOR: Virgina Katz
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Tildesley
RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 14, 2013