Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 3:14 PM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments (4)
  • Print

‘The Fifth Estate’: Great acting gets tangled in WikiLeaks web

A review of ‘The Fifth Estate,’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.


Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 2.5 stars

‘The Fifth Estate,’ with Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Alicia Vikander, David Thewlis, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie, Peter Capaldi, Carice van Houten, Dan Stevens. Directed by Bill Condon, from a screenplay by Josh Singer, based on the books “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website” by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by David Leigh and Luke Harding. 124 minutes. Rated R for language and some violence. Several theaters.

Most Popular Comments
Hide / Show comments
This is the only good review I have seen for this movie. This movie is a bomb. I will... MORE
Here's a bit of the truth. Watch the last bit of Julian's acceptance speech at Oslo... MORE
Julian Assange is an ego-driven narcissist working for his own recognition and... MORE

advertising

“Nobody is going to tell you the truth,” is one of the final lines of Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate”; it’s a fitting epigraph for a film ripped from the headlines, yet aware that truth is an elusive prize. The saga of WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower website founded by Julian Assange under the principle of “privacy for individuals, transparency for institutions,” is an unfinished story — it’s not clear yet how Assange, or WikiLeaks, will be weighed by history. The movie feels both too soon and too late; an often skillful assemblage of bits and pieces, telling a story we already know and, ultimately, letting it fade away without an ending. It seems, like its subject matter, overwhelmed by data.

But pare all that away and you have, at the core of “The Fifth Estate,” a wonderfully acted tale of a friendship turned sour. In its early scenes, Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch, white-haired and subtly lisping) meets young German network-security specialist Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) at a hackers’ conference. A “professional” association (in question marks, as it doesn’t appear that anybody got paid) is launched, with Domscheit-Berg excited about the possibilities WikiLeaks offers, and intrigued by his strange but brilliant new colleague. “Julian’s the mad prophet, but he needs boundaries,” Daniel’s girlfriend (Alicia Vikander) tells him. “He needs a line. You’re the line.”

The faceoffs between Cumberbatch’s feral-eyed Assange and Brühl’s rumpled everyhacker are electric, whether or not they adhere to what actually took place. (The movie is partially based on a book by Domscheit-Berg, who broke ways with Assange; Assange, in an interview recreated in the movie, calls the book “lies and distortions.” Yes, the movie is commented on within the movie; yet another layer of data.) They get a little tangled, though, in a web of multiple plot lines. This is a big, international story, and Condon and screenwriter Josh Singer do their best to convey its sweep — but a Washington, D.C., cast of characters (including Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and Anthony Mackie) seems imported from another movie, and a crew at London’s Guardian newspaper (with David Thewlis and Dan Stevens) gets short shrift.

It’s refreshing to see a movie that does too much, rather than too little, and Condon’s visual imagination brings us some memorable images of WikiLeaks as a vast room of endless computer terminals, all manned by a devilishly smiling Assange. But by the end, despite Cumberbatch’s nuanced work, you remain unsure what to make of this pale anti-hero. The truth eludes, still.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

Love the column? Pre-order the book!

Love the column? Pre-order the book!

Reserve your copy of "The Seattle Sketcher," the long-awaited book by staff artist Gabriel Campanario, for the special price of just $29.95.

Advertising

Partner Video

Advertising


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►