Julian Assange and his war on journalistic secrecy will always be remembered. His story doesn’t need to be dramatically retold, as it was a recent landmark event in the world of journalism. Director Bill Condon’s take on the story of WikiLeaks, “The Fifth Estate,” isn’t a very graceful interpretation.
WikiLeaks is a website dedicated to leaking government and corporate secrets to the public. The site has helped bring down corrupt organizations and regimes, but it came under fire in 2010 when it leaked diplomatic cables from the U.S. government, possibly putting many lives at risk, depending on who you ask.
There is one silver lining to this film: the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, the founder and editor in chief of WikiLeaks. Cumberbatch knows the kind of character needed to set the Internet aflame, and his performance shows the intelligence, brilliance and cunning of Assange, even with a small twinge of madness. You can tell this is a man with massive plans and ideals. Here, Cumberbatch may well have cemented himself in the race for a Best Actor Oscar.
It’s a shame the rest of the film doesn’t hold up as well as Cumberbatch’s acting. The screenplay, aside from the role of Assange, is rather boringly written. The film tries to place Assange’s former partner, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl, “Inglourious Basterds”), in a similar role to Salieri from “Amadeus,” but Berg is only seen as a tool rebelling at the thought of being used. Audiences never see any of the excitement or fear he should be sharing with Assange as the film’s events unfold.
This wouldn’t be much of a problem if not for the fact that Berg is actually the film’s main protagonist in a lot of ways. The film is not so much a dramatization of the WikiLeaks scandal as it is a portrait of a man who worked closely with Assange. Compared to his partner’s mad genius, Berg seems like an everyman and a normal, bored protagonist in the face of the extraordinary events surrounding him.
It’s a tragic irony. This film will be remembered for Cumberbatch’s brilliant acting, but it constantly tries to distract viewers from that. It truly feels like a missed opportunity.
However, I do wish Cumberbatch the best of luck when Oscar season rolls around. The film is worth checking out for his performance alone.
Film: “The Fifth Estate”
Release Date: Oct. 18, 2013
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl