The Fifth Estate (R)

Drama 124 October 18, 2013
By Alan Scherstuhl
Maybe you've thought, "Wow, Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange-- I'd like to see that." The good news: Deep into The Fifth Estate you actually do, when Cumberbatch faces a camera straight-on and acts for a good 40 seconds. He's marvelous, his Assange equal parts charisma and nerves, moral zeal and pushy self-righteousness. Cumberbatch speaks in a put-upon gush, his Assange sick of all the time people waste by making him spell out the truths he considers self-evident. He might be that good the rest of the movie, too. But I defy to you say for sure. Other than that brief scene, his every moment is diced up by reckless, senseless cuts, none revealing anything more than director Bill Condon's fear that we're bored. The Fifth Estate follows Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl), Assange's early partner and here a milquetoast audience surrogate, from WikiLeaks' first info-dumps right up to the 2010 release of tens of thousands of U.S. documents. Assange starts heroic and inspiring, liberating Domscheit-Berg from a job he hates for the work of exposing corruption and speaking truth to power. But then Assange turns megalomanic and needs some truth told to him, too. Like J.J. Abrams's TV dramas, The Fifth Estate opens at its most interesting moment and then flashes way back to show how we got there. There's the boho Euro underground hacker culture, the panicked U.S. State Department exposition-deliverers (including Laura Linney!), even something of a countdown clock. It all hews so closely to template that it's easy to imagine that paperclip from Microsoft Word popped up on Condon's desktop one day and said, "It looks like you're directing a techno-thriller. Would you like help?"
Bill Condon, R.J. Cutler Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Carice van Houten, Dan Stevens, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney R.J. Cutler, Josh Singer Steve Golin, Michael Sugar Walt Disney Pictures


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