Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Anthony Mackie, Alicia Vikander, David Thewlis, Carice van Houten and Stanley Tucci
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: October 11th
Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate is the first non-documentary attempt to tell the story of Julian Assange and his infamous website WikiLeaks. Championed by the likes of the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Speigel; the website, and by extension Assange, became household names. The tale came to a height when thousands of classified documents and international cables relating to the Afghanistan war were released onto the website by Bradley Manning. The film charts the rise of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) through the eyes of Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl), one of the earliest WikiLeaks volunteers and writer of the book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange Inside the World’s Most Dangerous Website; a book which Assange claims is very inaccurate.
The film is, sadly, a complete disappointment. I say sadly as the story of WikiLeaks is arguably one of the most important stories of this millennium. The simplicity of the story combined with the sheer stakes involved makes the material almost too unbelievable for a screenplay.
As a director Bill Condon could barely be described as a safe pair of hands, a look through his filmography would suggest more of a man hired simply to bring films in on budget. Dreamgirls, Kinsey, one of the Twilight movies—hardly films for the ages. I’ll concede that the man did direct Gods and Monsters but I would argue that the success of that film lies in Ian McKellen’s performance rather than anything Condon did.
With The Fifth Estate, Condon has been found badly out of his depth. If editing a film is like putting a jigsaw together, here he simply emptied the pieces out of the box and then walked off to attend to something else. Similarly there is no coherence to the style of the film or its soundtrack, Condon doesn’t seem to know if he’s directing a modern thriller or a classic spy story. Scenes that seem important come and go without any sense of reason or consequence. There is no doubting that the tale of WikiLeaks is a vast labyrinth of information but this director does not seem interested in being our guide through it.
With the look and the voice, Cumberbatch has Assange spot on and those who know him have indeed been quick to comment on how good his impersonation actually is. Sadly though it fails to get past an impersonation, not that this is Cumberbatch’s fault as the screenplay leaves Assange completely unexplored as a character. The same is also true of Daniel Brühl’s Domscheit-Berg, despite being based on the book he wrote there is again no investigation, no back story, and no talk of motivation, aims or desires.
There will be many more films about the WikiLeaks story and most of them will be better than this one. Ultimately this shouldn’t be much of a surprise, the film is a Dreamworks production and it’s unlikely that the great unbiased telling of this story was going to come from America. Quite simply the film doesn’t know what it wants to be; is it the story of WikiLeaks? Is it the story of Julian Assange? Or is it the story of Daniel Domscheit-Berg? They might have just been able to pull off the first two had they made the film about thirty minutes longer but they have attempted all three and Condon simply doesn’t have the talent to pull it off.
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