With the real life events still unfolding, it may be too early to do the ‘WikiLeaks film’ but director Bill Condon has thrown caution to the wind to bring us ‘The Fifth Estate’. Based mainly on the book ‘Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website’, it is told through the perspective of Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) from when he first meets Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) at a hackers convention in 2007. He is seen to neglect his career and relationship to explore his keen interest in online activism as Assange’s right hand man but when the strong views of his mysterious mentor begin to threaten innocent lives, Berg worries he has got in too deep. Despite a solid central performance and some decent visual pieces, this thriller offers few thrills, glossing over the topic without really getting beneath the cracks.
Daniel Berg is to Assange, what Nick Carraway is to Gatsby, swooning with intrigue to get closer but constantly afraid of the consequences that it may lead to, or at least that’s the understanding we are presented with. As he puts in the hours online, leaking classified information on behalf of his master, Julian rushes around like a cross between The Doctor and the Silver-haired Surfer, swinging his laptop bag behind him wherever he goes. The plot plods along, and soon becomes boring before eventually arriving at a dead end where reality is yet to fill in the rest, but a few slickly constructed scenes showing the protagonists in a open space visual representation of the Internet make for a welcome distraction from the flailing direction. For viewers who have limited knowledge of the subject, this will provide a good grounding but those already clued up will be left a little unfulfilled.
Fighting past the shoddiness is Benedict Cumberbatch who is charismatic and fun to watch at times, spouting conflicting tales about his white locks in the same manner as the Joker talks about how he got his scabby smile, and who has Assange’s voice and mannerisms down to a tee. Certainly not scared of the challenge of big roles, having previously portraying the Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek’s Khan, here he displays skill for uncanny impersonation but falls victim to a weak script. Brühl, who has also impressed this year, fails to make much of an impact, possibly due to the irritating character, and is top of the wasted talent list which includes Laura Linney as government official Sarah Shaw, and rising star Jamie Blackley, as another one of Assange’s protégées, closely behind.
Telling the story now, a mere seven years after the website was initiated, was always going to be difficult, like trying to tell a joke without the punch line, and this is evident in the filmmaking. It lacks the richness needed to fully immerse the viewer and sadly comes across like a newsflash hurling data rather than doing the fascinating story justice by telling it in entertaining fashion. Assange himself has been critical of the picture, calling it the ‘Anti-WikiLeaks film’ and a talking head to camera moment from Cumberbatch’s Julian at the end of the film preaches to us as individuals to form our own opinions of him and his organisation which somewhat contradicts and belittles the two hours of footage that precedes it. Before the release, Assange had pleaded with Cumberbatch not to go ahead and make this film. Maybe he should have listened.