Leaky boat – The Fifth Estate review

The Fifth Estate

By Jess Lomas
November 12, 2013

In The Fifth Estate, director Bill Condon sets out to answer the question, “Can you make a thrilling film about a website?” The answer is, after viewing, ‘No,’ even when the website in question is Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, which captured the world’s attention as it persistently released classified documents and its poster boy found himself increasingly in hot water, both professionally and personally. The site’s cultural relevance culminated in April 2010, with the leak of gunsight footage from a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad, and it is this event in particular that the picture centers on.

Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1) has assembled an enviable cast. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) not only wins points for a convincing Australian accent, but also embodying Assange physically, fully committing to depicting this slick individual, and matches Judy Davis’ turn in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows for superior biopic acting. Daniel Brühl (Rush) tackles Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange’s once right-hand man whose book Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website is one of the sources screenwriter Josh Singer (The West Wing) adapted for the screenplay.

The Fifth Estate

Despite the fine performances, the flick ultimately falls flat. It’s more interested in the bromance between Julian and Daniel than on the actual events WikiLeaks uncovered, with their mutual love for their work and the eventual demise of their friendship often superseding the military drama that made Gibney’s documentary essential viewing. When it does explore interesting territory, an overwhelming sense of déjà vu envelopes you. These are current events still fresh in the public consciousness (we’ve also seen Robert Connolly’s Underground: The Julian Assange Story and Alex Gibney’s riveting documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks fairly recently too).

Assange has made public his non-support of the movie, and it’s obvious why. The Fifth Estate is firmly on Daniel’s side from the opening titles. (Daniel even gets a love interest, though it feels somewhat tacked on.) Condon doesn’t do for Assange and WikiLeaks what, say, David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin did for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook with The Social Network. Perhaps Condon’s approach to the subject has merit – why focus on the events we all remember when the individuals involved are so interesting? – but unfortunately, The Fifth Estate focuses too much on the voice of the wrong person, and Julian Assange, sadly, remains an enigma.


The Fifth Estate arrives in Australian cinemas November 14, 2013.

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