The Fifth Estate


Release: Friday, October 18, 2013


Yeah, thanks. . . thanks Bill Condon, if we wanted to sit through a lecture on information gathering in the digital age, we would (and a lot of us probably) have made tuition payments for school.

However, this is a movie and we want to be entertained as much as we desire to be informed; unfortunately though your work seems capable of handling only one of those — and that is to inform. Inform. Inform. Inform. Inform. Inform. Prepare to be drowned in informing, actually. This film feels more like a Powerpoint presentation than a creative device. And no, I’m going to try hard and not turn this ironically into a stern lecture on how NOT to make a movie (though I could).

What you are probably going to see a lot of, though, is me rehashing how I wish I hadn’t anticipated this release so much; a lot of reiterating how disappointing a film The Fifth Estate has turned out to be.

While anchored by two very likable actors in Benedict Cumberbatch (doing his best to approximate his unique physique to that of the real Australian hacker) and Daniel Brühl (a selling point for me personally having just seen him in the incredible race film, Rush) and being based on the real Daniel Berg’s book, titled ‘Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website,’ this movie seems to be hacked virtually from the get-go. The pace is slower than dial-up AOL and despite said cast even contributing earnest performances, what we’re given as the story behind Julian Assange and his controversial WikiLeaks webpage isn’t nearly substantial enough. It’s like ticking items off a grocery list, the way we move through several critical moments in his career.

I wish I hadn’t anticipated this film so much.

It’s always troubling in a movie when you find yourself sitting there, consciously picking out all the things on-screen that you saw potentially greater versions of. In this case, director Bill Condon (who is literally one hump away from having a terribly awkward surname) mismatches the talented Cumberbatch and Brühl with a lifeless script that gives only broad brushstrokes as to who the man behind WikiLeaks is; you could get the same information by checking him out on Wikipedia. (Wiki-whoops.) That said, though, the actors bring weight to some of the drama that occurs. Some, being a keyword.

A good deal of what comprises Condon’s data-heavy docudrama/biopic are partially edited recordings which were some of the major milestones in the WikiLeaks era. For example, videos you may have seen on YouTube countless times (depending on how quickly such material got blocked) will resurface again and again throughout the movie — footage of atrocities committed during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan; rare footage of the events of September 11, etc. Condon’s putting all of this information out there but there’s absolutely nothing being done with any of it. I understand its good to be objective on certain things, but there’s a difference between being neutral and distancing the audience.

Coupled with some very suspect editing and special effects from some 90s rock band music video, what should be a riveting and morally gouging narrative turns out to be a complete cock-up. I have no other words for it other than that. (Well, that and I’ve been waiting a long time to bust that word out.) What I deemed to be one of the year’s more intriguing stories (which is now only true in the theoretical) is steeped in amateurish filmmaking and this fact is simply exasperating. And even worse, I almost fell asleep twice throughout. I wish I hadn’t anticipated this film so much.

I don’t even concern myself with the fact that Assange himself considers the movie to be “fiction masquerading as fact.”

While the concept of ‘the fifth estate’ is indeed interesting, its significance to the film couldn’t be more contrived, as its explained away in a line of dialogue, rather than manifesting itself in the style and tone of the writing. Simply put, the term refers to the existence of a group of people who don’t affiliate themselves with any of the four other societal groupings (thinking about it historically, you have the first class “clergy,” second class “nobility,” third class “commoners,” and the fourth class “press.”)

As it pertains to the world now, Assange and his controversial site — where thousands of the planet’s best-kept secrets are made available to the internet-browsing public free of charge — would most definitely plead the fifth (estate). His nature epitomizes both the terms ‘loner’ and ‘enigmatic.’ He must be an incredibly difficult person to relate to, yet somehow Cumberbatch manages to portray him with an amazing confidence that is hard to ignore.

I also didn’t find Laura Linney to be all that terrible either, playing Sarah Shaw, a government official who represents those in high power who stand to lose quite a lot with all of this unearthing of secrets that pesky Assange has been doing. Linney’s given a considerable amount of screen time, and while she’s never been an actress I’ve been able to take seriously for even as long as a minute, here she seems more than capable of delivering the drama. She may not be half bad, but in a movie that is, she seemingly continues to be unable to catch a break. The same cannot be said for Anthony Mackie, however, who is plain awful in this movie and who I can’t wait to never see again in a major motion picture.

The most disappointing aspect to this film is the opportunity that is squandered to reveal an intriguing profile of one of the world’s most controversial figures. I mean, if it was tough then it’s going to be impossible now. Assange, seeking protection from being tried for treason among other crimes in various countries, has been hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, likely to remain there for the foreseeable future. His character will forever remain a mystery, since this film makes an attempt to characterize him but ultimately what it settles for are generalizations, cliches and generally menial statements on the nature of a globally-connected society.

To that end, The Fifth Estate comes across as nothing more than an obligation, an exercise. . .a data dump. Well, that and a film I wish I hadn’t anticipated so much.


2-0Recommendation: This is probably the flattest and most uninspiring biopic I’ve seen. Very little about its material seemed to merit a major motion picture, and instead seemed to be simply a reason to put Cumberbatch in another lead role, which by no means is something I necessarily disapprove of. But if you want to get to know more about WikiLeaks, as well as the man behind it (good luck on that), you’d be best served by seeking out the documentary, We Steal Secrets. I’m probably not going to be the last to suggest this, either.

Rated: R

Running Time: 128 mins.

Quoted: “Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. But if you give him a mask, he will tell you the truth. Two people, and a secret: the beginning of all conspiracies. More people, and, more secrets. But if we could find one moral man, one whistle-blower. Someone willing to expose those secrets, that man can topple the most powerful and most repressive of regimes.”

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21 thoughts on “The Fifth Estate

  1. Pingback: The 2013 DigiBread Awards | digitalshortbread

  2. Well said. I liked it a bit more than you did (gave it a C) but you astutely observe the flaws, especially the effects. Yikes, those weren’t good.


    • thanks for stopping in James, happy to hear you had a little bit better time with it. as much as I wanted to, I was so insanely let down by it. but there’s a lesson to be learned here. . .somewhere, I think. haha. and no, the edits and effects were probably the worst part of this. 😦


      • see that was my problem, the trailers moved me. i thought they were great, but that’s just me. so i went in expecting something pretty fantastic. I’m not including Cumberbatch in this because he was quite good. So was Bruhl.


    • haha I appreciate it Mark. Only one of the many harsh lashes I took against this product. Damn you, Condon!!!! and why do you have such an awkward last name???! 😀


    • I can understand that sentiment. The cast was great, but to me the story Condon could tell was incredible. And it couldn’t have been more botched. I can’t really go ahead and say it was all inaccurate or incredibly spot-on (only Assange I think can make those claims!) but I have to say that this will probably be the biggest disappointment of 2013 for yours truly. . . 😦


  3. Damn, this looks like it was a serious disappointment. I was not amped up for this, but now there is no ways that I am going out of my way or making a special effort to check it out. Oh well.


    • This is actually the second draft of this comment. I at first was going to apologize to you for throwing you even further off the trail with this movie, but now I have to say I take that back becaues I don’t want you to waste your time sitting through this! haha.

      Ultimately I think the subject matter is extremely interesting and quite honestly critical for us living in the society we do now, but this is by no means the film we needed to convey just how crazy the things that Assange was able to reveal to the world. We need something much more well-handled. Again I suggest the documentary, We Steal Secrets. 🙂


      • In that case, thank you so much for reviewing your comment 😛

        The subject matter is what would have gotten me in to see it, but damn, how listless and boring could they make it?!

        I will check out that documentary, adding it to my watchlist.


      • Tell you what, let me know what you think of the documentary and I can tell you how much/how little of this movie you will like. I felt like Fifth Estate grabbed some of the important parts of it and threw together a more dramatized version of Assange’s life. Either way. See it beforehand if you like, just consider yourself warned. 😉


  4. I don’t really have much desire to see this, I just don’t see how they can make a really decent film about this whilst it’s still going on. I might rent it for Benny and Bruhl though. Great review Tom and thanks for linking to my Rush review, really appreciate that.


    • No problem whatsoever man! 🙂

      That’s a really interesting point you bring up about the fact that WikiLeaks is still an ongoing project. I hadn’t thought of that before going in. However, what sold me on Fifth Estate was this: Cumberbatch is simply a phenomenal actor (no letdown here really), and to take on such an interesting and enigmatic figure like this dude — well, the possibilities to me were endless of making a really compelling film. At the time it also seemed timely, but now that you mentioned the fact that WikiLeaks really hasn’t gone away, I guess it’s not so much anymore. That, and well I loved Bruhl in Rush, so I had to check his work out here. He was also pretty solid.

      I guess what frustrates me most (and I think it was pretty clear here lol) was that given these hefty roles in which the actors performed rather well in, the rest of the film couldn’t have appeared more juvenile and amateurish. If you do go see it let me know, but I completely understand you not wanting to see it.


    • Yeah Mark, the trailers are quite good. At the time of first seeing them I thought the film would also be good.


    • It could mean that the apocalypse is here. Or that Bill Condom shouldn’t direct any more movies. I hated this thing, which is most unfortunate.


  5. Good review. Could have gone deeper and deeper into the reasons why this all matters, rather than just how, but it was still better than I ever expected a tell-tale story of the beginning of WikiLeaks to be. However, something tells me that a better biopic is out there just waiting to be made.


    • I see what you’re saying but I was nothing but let down by it all. It wasn’t that it was just a shallow movie, I thought it was beyond boring. Which to me is one of the worst kind of offenses as far as movies go


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