Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl
Director: Bill Condon
The story of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his mission to expose the dark secrets of governments and corporates ought to make for a thrilling film. But The Fifth Estate, directed by Bill Condon, is a mostly dull affair. While Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch is convincing as Assange - complete with lisping voice, lank white hair, puffy eyes, and a paranoid glare - the film never goes beyond newspaper headlines to tell us anything we don't already know.
Keenly aware that it's hard to take a bunch of guys sitting in front of computer screens and turn that into compelling drama, Condon borrows The Social Network approach, focusing on the relationship between Assange and his loyal lieutenant Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl). It's a friendship that gradually sours when Berg realizes that his charismatic partner is strangely indifferent to the human lives that might be endangered in the process of leaking explosive US intelligence documents about the Iraq War.
Aside from a thrilling final act that involves the mainstream media's simultaneous worldwide release of those sensitive cables, most of The Fifth Estate feels surprisingly inert, possibly because it lacks the focus and cogency that made All The President's Men such an involving whistleblower tale. Questions about the ethics of WikiLeaks are raised, but no firm stand is ever taken.
Handsomely mounted, but ultimately too safe in its reconstruction of deeply complex events, this film runs but never flies. I'm going with two-and-a-half out of five for The Fifth Estate. Watch it for Cumberbatch's appropriately creepy performance as Assange.
Rating: 2.5 / 5