Movie review: ‘The Fifth Estate’ |

Movie review: ‘The Fifth Estate’

Lisa MIller
Dan Stevens as journalist Ian Katz, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in a scene from "The Fifth Estate."
Courtesy Dreamworks Pictures / Frank Connor |



Directed by Bill Condon

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Carice Van Houten, Dan Stevens, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney

Rated R, Drama, 128 minutes

Since the mainstream media is rarely willing to take the time, money or risk necessary to conduct exposé journalism, it’s natural to root for Wikileaks — an Internet site allowing ordinary citizens to become anonymous whistle-blowers.

As profiled in “The Fifth Estate,” a film adapted from the books “Inside Wikileaks” by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and “Wikileaks” by David Leigh and Luke Harding, running such a site requires an ego the size of Manhattan, cutting-edge technical expertise and extreme naïveté or unbridled courage. The embodiment of these attributes can be found in platinum-haired Aussie Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who deemed himself “a man filled with purpose” when he founded Wikileaks in 2006.

While exposing government corruption and corporate wrongdoing, Assange also dreamed of being recognized and applauded for making important contributions. He seems to have sprung from nowhere. The child of a single mother, Julian moved more than 30 times by age 16. He remained a peripatetic adult, living hand-to-mouth and couch-to-couch, but he scored both a friend and a place to stay when he converted eager Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl) to his cause. Daniel was a information technology drone working for a German corporation when he was drawn to what he believed was Assange’s altruistic cause.

Along with asking what should and shouldn’t constitute journalism in our ever-changing global marketplace, “The Fifth Estate” chronicles Daniel’s awakening from idealism to practicality.

As events continue to unfold, Daniel begins to realize that Assange is equal parts truth teller, reckless anarchist and glory seeker. Cumberbatch capably conveys Assange’s deep-seated paranoia, manipulative tactics and attention-seeking behavior, all with energetic dedication that lights up the screen. In contrast Daniel Bruhl’s portrayal of Daniel Domscheit-Berg conveys the frenetic process of falling in love with what we want to believe, followed by the disillusionment of realizing his mistake.

Since thoughts are interior making a film about ideas is difficult. “The Fifth Estate” partially succeeds by sticking close to its information source, Daniel. Seen through his eyes it’s tempting to judge Assange harshly. Whether this Wikileaks founder is the common-man’s friend or foe is a subject encompassing a large gray area — one that we hope the application of much gray matter will properly discern.

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