Daniel “My New Favorite Actor” Bruhl stars as Daniel Berg – an IT manager who is disaffected by the corporate world and looking for some new excitement or something to believe in (like 99% of those who work in the corporate world). He becomes a fan of WikiLeaks, an organization started by Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to give whistleblowers the chance to expose corruption and illegal behavior by posting documents and proof online.
Assange is a charismatic fellow, and he convinces Daniel to join the group as one of many volunteers committed to changing the world, but they soon find themselves facing difficulties as WikiLeaks grows in popularity and comes across its biggest ethical challenge yet, the exposure of documents from the U.S. State Department revealing information about the war in Afghanistan and covert operatives around the world.
What will this mean for WikiLeaks and the friendship between Daniel and Julian?
Back in 1995, I remember a review of The Net starring Sandra Bullock (I remember lots of stuff with Sandra Bullock). It was either Siskel or Ebert who said you can only get so much excitement and thrills from watching people type on a computer. That’s the big challenge for director Bill Condon in The Fifth Estate, and he fails to live up to the challenge.
Condon and the team valiantly try to bring some visual flair to the movie by giving the audience a virtual look at WikiLeaks as an imaginary office where each character has a desk, but it’s not enough. It becomes a very talky movie about lots of BIG issues, but nothing all that compelling, which you can also blame on screenwriter Josh Singer. He won’t leave Aaron Sorkin quaking in his boots.
Sure, Condon and Singer bring us some discussion about the new media vs. old media, the thrill of these internet cowboys taking on the world in a communications revolution, the good guys exposing the evil bad guys, and more familiar themes, but just making proclamations is not discussing it or creating dialogue that will stimulate our brains and hearts. Even when delving into journalistic ethics, the audience is left to wonder why we should care, and most don’t, especially since the big issues being discussed are presented in a murky fashion at best.
The Fifth Estate is so much better when it focuses on Assange, and the great performance by Cumberbatch. When Condon and Singer dip their toes into Assange’s background and prickly personality, The Fifth Estate begins to become slightly interesting. We want to know what makes this guy tick and act the way he does with the grandiose statements, some lying, some persuasion and strained relationships he has with the people who actually like him. This might be the one reason we don’t start to snooze.
Cumberbatch proves to be a chameleon with yet another character. It’s good to see someone else will be able to do it when Daniel Day-Lewis decides to retire (could you see Cumberbatch as Theodore Roosevelt?). The combination of Cumberbatch’s coolly outcaste behavior and Bruhl’s intensity and the way he captures Daniel’s naiveté as a true believer almost saves the movie.
The Fifth Estate is more snoozer than thriller.
The Fifth Estate is rated R for language and some violence