Long before WikiLeaks reached global notoriety from the release of the Iraq and Afghan War Logs, Julian Assange was hard at work revealing the secrets of large businesses and governments the world over.
“The Fifth Estate” chronicles the time from 2007, when Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl) joined the organization, through the publishing of the documents in 2010. Berg initially joined WikiLeaks, believed the ruse that Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) had an army of volunteers, when in reality, it was just the pair that soon took on Swiss Bank Julius Baer, the Church of Scientology and both British and American politicians.
Unfortunately, for a movie so focused on telling the tale of WikiLeaks, it manages to leave the most important part of the organizations history to the tail end of the film. For well over an hour, audiences are treated to the drawn out history of Assange and Berg and their efforts to recruit and gain a following within the hacking society. We are left itching for the real meat of the story that, unfortunately, never comes.
The bright spot in the film is Benedict Cumberbatch. Not just adopting an Australian accent for the film, but manages to capture Asante’s inflections within the sound, as he digs deep into the complexities of a man driven to out the dirty laundry of major organizations. He overshadows his characters own backstory with how brilliantly he portrays his egomaniacal, obsessive nature.
The most interesting part of the movie was its effects. Throughout the film, a warehouse-esque setting is developed, as we see rows of empty desks, occupied by Berg and Assange, representing Assange’s mythical army. Interactions between the characters and this setting are possible, and represent decisions made in the conscious world, such as Berg’s destruction of the site he worked so hard to build up.
Daniel Berg’s 2011 book “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time at the World’s Most Dangerous Website” and “Guardian” writers David Leigh and Luke Harding’s “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Asante’s War on Secrecy” served as inspiration for the film. Also starring Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and David Thewlis, the movie underwhelms in its adaptation of too large a time frame. By trying to cover everything, director Bill Condon managed to cover even less in the scope of things, and relegates the most controversial parts of WikiLeaks to the last half hour, which doesn’t give the material, and it’s hype from the public denouement from Assange via interviews and press releases, the attention it deserves.
“The Fifth Estate” is rated R for language and some violence. It is now playing in theatres. It garners a C from me, with truly the only thing going for it the expected amazing Cumberbatch and company performances and its interesting effects.