The Fifth Estate

Out Now On-Demand

You can't expose the world's secrets without exposing your own.

Benedict Cumberbatch is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in this dramatised retelling of the heady, early days of the whistleblowing website - culminating in the release of a series of controversial and history changing information leaks. The publicity of the leak brought overnight fame to its principal architects and transformed the flow of information to news media. Based on the books written by Assange's colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl, Rush) and Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding.

Assange and Domscheit-Berg began things as an underground watchdog of the privileged and powerful. On a shoestring, they create a platform that allows whistleblowers to anonymously leak covert data, shining a light on the dark recesses of government secrets and corporate crimes. They are soon breaking more hard news than the world’s media outlets combined. But when Assange and Berg gain access to the biggest trove of confidential intelligence documents in U.S. history, they battle each other and a defining question of our time: what are the costs of keeping secrets in a free society?

Trailers

Directed by

Written by

  • Josh Singer
  • (based on the books 'Inside WikiLeaks' by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and 'WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy' by Luke Harding and David Leigh)

Biography, Drama, True Story & Biography

128mins

Rating: M Violence and offensive language

USA

Official Site

The problem with true stories is that they always feel messy, imperfect, unfinished. For its first hour, Bill Condon's primer on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is perfectly serviceable – if far from subtle, like reading a Wikipedia page on CAPS LOCK.

Adapted from two tell-all books, Josh Singer's script does some nimble work introducing the concept of WikiLeaks and the whizzy world of global “churnalism”. But there are few surprises on which to hang a compelling tale, and most of the drama necessarily involves slammed laptops, server problems and earnest young men typing with computer monitors reflected in their glasses.

As Daniel Berg, the man who helped Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) challenge the strictures of traditional journalism, Daniel Brühl is solid, as are the supporting cast (including Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and Alice Vikander), although nobody has too much to do - it's all about Assange. With a drowsy Australian accent and Mr Whippy hair, Cumberbatch plays him as autistic and otherworldy, the Morpheus of a long-forgotten Matrix. By contrast, Linney and Tucci's US state officials seem so nice and reasonable it practically constitutes a character assassination - irresponsible stuff when a man's freedom still hangs in the balance.

Whether Assange is a journalist or a terrorist is the key question here, but the film seems pretty certain, ending with him sneering at the camera as if confessing to a documentary crew. Unfortunately the irony of spinning an unconvincing fiction about a man who stopped at nothing to tell the truth is something even film-making this polished can't overcome.

Dissolve (USA)

press

Condon seems to hope energetic staging and furrowed brows will compensate for a script that’s essentially an exchange of halfhearted arguments.

Empire (UK)

press

Disappointingly dull account of a tale desperately in need of a sharper screenplay and some directorial vim. Might as well wait for the Blu-ray, Jules.

Guardian (UK)

press

This is highly competent catnip for the watercooler crowd.

Time Out New York

press

Brühl, meanwhile, is saddled with the unenviable task of being this hollow movie’s slow-dawning voice of reason: His climactic conversation with newspaper editor David Thewlis (never worse) is one of the most embarrassingly didactic Way We Live Now™ summations ever filmed.

Total Film (UK)

press

With a riveting portrayal by Cumberbatch at its heart, The Fifth Estate tells its story grippingly - but finally leaves us none the wiser.

Hollywood Reporter

press

Cumberbatch's Julian Assange is the highlight of a sometimes ordinary-feeling film.

New York Times

press

There is something a little too pat about this narrative, and about the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger spirit in which it is offered.

Sydney Morning Herald

press

A well-acted but uneven take on recent events that feels strangely superfluous.

Variety (USA)

press

Primarily hobbles itself by trying to cram in more context-needy material than any single drama should have to bear.