3 stars
If you've watched Alex Gibney's gripping 2013 documentary Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets, there's not much left to learn about Julian Assange from this light but agreeably rousing drama. Based on two books by those close to the Wikileaks founder – Daniel Berg and David Leigh - Bill Condon (Gods And Monsters and, er Twilight 2 & 3) shapes events leading up to the release of 250,000 classified US documents into a would-be Bourne thriller. Which it mostly is.

With a punchy visual style that, depending on your point of view, either raises the dramatic stakes or is a band-aid for poor film-making, Condon recaps two dramatic years in the build up to Wikileaks' biggest leak, and the immediate aftermath. Questions of censorship and culpability are raised, the purpose and responsibility of this new 'journalism' (a term Assange clearly abhorred), and the state of mind of the group's leader. Leading narrative push is the US government who wants them shut down.

Wrapped in the neon-guise of an urban thriller, The Fifth Estate is seen through the eyes of awestruck hacker Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl - Rush) who chances upon Assange in Berlin. They team up just as the notoriety of the organisation explodes internationally, culminating in the supply of documents from US soldier Bradley Manning. For an organisation whose mantra is transparency, it became clear to Berg that Assange, and Wikileaks, was not. “This is just you and your ego!” shouts Berg.

It's no secret that Assange views the film poorly and refused to participate in its making. Given the rough treatment of his character - assassination is harsh, but comes close as he's presented as borderline schizophrenic with a messianic complex - this is not at all surprising. No doubt he sees Condon's film as yet another hatchet job by the American government (at the time of writing, Assange remains holed up in London's Ecuadorian embassy fearing extradition to the US).

The Fifth Estate is anchored by two terrific performances by Brühl and Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness) who give the film an energy that's not easily found in the script by Josh Singer (West Wing). He writes with such a heavy, ponderous tone that what should be an effortlessly exciting film becomes unnecessarily ponderous. As their determination to reveal the truth turns from white haired David vs a military Goliath into a clash of ego fought out on a couple of laptops, Battleships style, The Fifth Estate becomes a film you want to enjoy much more than you do.

Not that this is an awful experience by any means. But given the raw material and it's place in the changing media landscape – these are people who took down a billion dollar bank with little more than conviction after all - you can't help but wonder how good it could have been.


Previewed at Events Cinemas, George St Sydney, on November 13, 2013



Benedict Cumberpatch
Daniel Brühl
Laura Linney
David Thewliss

Bill Condon

Josh Singer



104 minutes

November 14
The Fifth Estate (2013) on IMDb
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