Film Review – The Fifth Estate (2013)

The Fifth Estate focuses on the early years of the website WikiLeaks up until its global impact after the leaking of thousands of US Government documents in the summer of 2010. WikiLeaks went from being relatively unknown to a worldwide news story. The film is based on the personal accounts of Daniel Domscheit-Berg and British journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding and therefore focuses on the relationship between Berg and Julian Assange in the early years from 2007 and how their friendship eventually broke down.

I found this film to be quite slow, particularly to start with and I imagine many people seeing the film will complain that it is a lot of talk but I expected this. It isn’t an action thriller; it’s an intelligent dialogue-heavy film and therefore won’t appeal to everyone. I do however think that director Bill Condon builds the tension in certain moments well, for example, as we watch a character hoping to cross the Syrian border.

Ultimately though The Fifth Estate is all about the central performances and I admit my main interest in going to see the film was to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange. The central performances by Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl as Berg are very good indeed and raise the quality of the film substantially. Brühl is great at portraying Berg as a man caught between his ethical beliefs and his friend’s vision and belief in the transparency of all information no matter the cost. Cumberbatch is excellent as Assange, highlighting yet again his incredible range and versatility as an actor. There seems to be no role (on stage or screen) that he cannot do and his performance here is an extremely nuanced, effective portrayal of a man recognised worldwide but who still remains somewhat an enigma. His accent is very good in my opinion, but also each gesture and expression is thought through to transform him into Assange. In fact those who know him say it’s uncanny.

It would have been interesting to have a better understanding of Assange’s early life, which is only hinted at in this film, but the audience has to remember that as the film is based on Berg’s experience with him, such aspects could never fully be explored. I was also disappointed by how little we see some of the other characters, in particular Peter Capaldi and Dan Stephens at The Guardian. Both are great actors but don’t have much to do here.

Overall I enjoyed the film – it is an interesting insight into the central relationship behind one of the biggest news stories of the last decade and will be appreciated most by those who enjoy films such as The Social Network. I would probably describe it as an average film, which contains an excellent central performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, together with some notable supporting roles.

The Fifth Estate is out in cinemas now.

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