Civilisation has long thrived and survived by having four ‘estates’ – clergy and government; nobility and the wealthy elite; commoners and workers; the press and the media. But with the advent of the 21st Century and electronic media and information highways (such as the Internet, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc) becoming such an important part of our lives, there is a need for a fifth ‘estate’, consisting of those who aim to keep the other ‘estates’ in check, also known as watchdogs, whistleblowers and the famous (or infamous) WikiLeaks.
Bill Condon’s (Gods And Monsters, Kinsey, Dreamgirls) film, The Fifth Estate is a look at the controversy that has now surrounded WikiLeaks and its Australian creator, Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), as seen through the eyes of one-time partner, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl).
Josh Singer’s screenplay, based on Domscheit-Berg’s own book, Inside Wikileaks and The Gaurdian book, Wikileaks, is clever (perhaps a bit much so), but is littered with techno-babble, and draws the two main players extremely one dimensionally – Assange equals Bad; Berg equals Good.
Cumberbatch gives a strong performance of a man who seems to have no redeeming features whatsoever. It is extremely difficult to spend two hours watching a film where the main character is so detestable.
Thank goodness for the presence of Bruhl, playing yet another real life personage; his is the light to guide us away from the tedious Assange. The other saving graces of the film are Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney as two American State Department officials, who probably have the best lines in the movie.
The main problem with Condon’s film is that it can’t make up its mind what it wants to be – a bio-pic, a political thriller, or even (in parts) an art house movie.
If you are a fan of WikiLeaks, then The Fifth Estate is for you; if you have strong views on Julian Assange one way or the other, it won’t change them; and if you want a good, tense thriller, this isn’t it.
Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Rating out of 10: 5
The Fifth Estate opens 14 November 2013