Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Josh Singer
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney
Last night, due to circumstances beyond my control I was almost late to the theater but managed to make it in time for the last couple of previews before the start of The Fifth Estate. Unfortunately, less than halfway through I found myself wishing the previews had been shorter so I wouldn’t have had to sit through the movie as long. I went into The Fifth Estate knowing very little about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and I left the theater feeling like I knew even less than before.
You would think a story involving the uncovering of massive government conspiracies would have no problem being compelling but The Fifth Estate somehow manages to be unbearably dull. It soon becomes clear that they attempted to make the relationship between Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his former associate Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl) in the vein of Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin of The Social Network but they forgot to make the characters interesting so we would have a reason to care.
This movie might’ve been better if they had shown a more in depth look into the site’s rise to prominence. Sadly, the script seems to be content with simply giving us the cliff-notes version. After showing Assange and Domscheit-Berg take down a corrupt Swiss bank in 2007, the movie mostly takes us through a lazy montage of their other stories before getting to the story that made them famous: their leak of over 250,000 U.S. military and diplomatic cables in 2010.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl give some solid performances but that’s not nearly enough to elevate the movie above mediocrity. Cumberbatch evidently gives this movie his all and if this had been a movie more worthy of his talents he probably would’ve had a decent shot at an Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, the script gives him very little to work with and he only manages to be slightly less boring than the rest of the characters.
Instead they waste any resemblance of character development on Domscheit-Berg by occasionally showing how his involvement with WikiLeaks negatively affects his personal life, particularly with his disapproving girlfriend. These scenes don’t really serve any purpose or add anything to the plot (not that there’s much of one to begin with). I suspect that if they had been cut out of the film completely there would’ve no change to the plot except that it would’ve mercifully been about fifteen minutes shorter. Why director Bill Condon felt the need to include these parts at all puzzles me.
Equally puzzling are the scenes where they show the possible WikiLeaks fallout from the point of view of the U.S. Government. This really doesn’t make any sense to me since I can’t name a single scene where Assange comes within a hundred yards of a government official so it just ended up feeling disconnected from the rest of the movie. What’s worse is that even though they spend most of their screen time trying to come up with a game plan to minimize the seemingly inevitable damage that WikiLeaks will cause but then they don’t even really show what the damage is.
Other than some good acting there was nothing about this movie to leave an impression on me. At one point Assange tells a British reporter that he has never heard anyone talk for so long without saying anything at all. Ironically, that was a perfect way to sum up how I feel about this movie. The script asks some interesting questions in the debate of information vs. privacy but ultimately makes zero attempts to provide any answers.