Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Erika? Universal Hires Husband to Write 'Fifty Shades Darker' How Do You Solve a Problem Like Erika? Universal Hires Husband to Write 'Fifty Shades Darker' 'Age of Ultron' Director Joss Whedon on Self-Doubt and Why It's His 'Rio Bravo' 'Age of Ultron' Director Joss Whedon on Self-Doubt and Why It's His 'Rio Bravo' Watch: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Amy Schumer Hilariously Slam Hollywood Sexism (NSFW) Watch: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Amy Schumer Hilariously Slam Hollywood Sexism (NSFW) CinemaCon: How Tom Cruise Stole the Paramount Show CinemaCon: How Tom Cruise Stole the Paramount Show Meet the Director of 'Tangerines,' the 2015 Dark Horse Oscar Nominee You Missed (Exclusive Video) Meet the Director of 'Tangerines,' the 2015 Dark Horse Oscar Nominee You Missed (Exclusive Video) LA Film Fest Unveils Horror Slate, More World Premieres, Zoe Cassavetes Film LA Film Fest Unveils Horror Slate, More World Premieres, Zoe Cassavetes Film Cannes: Directors' Fortnight Lines Up Vet Auteurs and American Indies Cannes: Directors' Fortnight Lines Up Vet Auteurs and American Indies Joe Wright's 'Pan' Gets Fall Release Date: Good News or Bad News? Joe Wright's 'Pan' Gets Fall Release Date: Good News or Bad News? Seeing Ryan Gosling's 'Lost River' Through Composer Johnny Jewel's Eyes (STREAM SOUNDTRACK) Seeing Ryan Gosling's 'Lost River' Through Composer Johnny Jewel's Eyes (STREAM SOUNDTRACK) 3 Women Genre Directors Get SF Film Society Fellowships 3 Women Genre Directors Get SF Film Society Fellowships Here's Why Jon Stewart Quit 'The Daily Show' Here's Why Jon Stewart Quit 'The Daily Show' Watch: From Tarantino to Cronenberg, Great Directors Talk the Art and Anxiety of Filmmaking Watch: From Tarantino to Cronenberg, Great Directors Talk the Art and Anxiety of Filmmaking Specialty Box Office: 'True Story' and 'Child 44' Flop as 'Ex Machina' Lures Audiences Specialty Box Office: 'True Story' and 'Child 44' Flop as 'Ex Machina' Lures Audiences Tribeca Film Festival Matches George Lucas with Stephen Colbert: “I’m gonna tear you a new one, George" Tribeca Film Festival Matches George Lucas with Stephen Colbert: “I’m gonna tear you a new one, George" 10 Films Booed at Cannes That Every Cinephile Should See 10 Films Booed at Cannes That Every Cinephile Should See 5 Things You Didn't Know About Lars von Trier, Who's Going Back to Work 5 Things You Didn't Know About Lars von Trier, Who's Going Back to Work The Eerie Connection Between 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and 'Tomorrowland' The Eerie Connection Between 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and 'Tomorrowland' Digging Into the Cannes Lineup: More Vet Auteurs and Women, No Netflix Digging Into the Cannes Lineup: More Vet Auteurs and Women, No Netflix You Can Now Read Over 200,000 Leaked Sony Emails and Documents You Can Now Read Over 200,000 Leaked Sony Emails and Documents 7 Things to Learn from 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner About Compelling Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO) 7 Things to Learn from 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner About Compelling Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)

Review: 'The Fifth Estate' Gives Us Cumberbatch as the Assange We Need

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood October 17, 2013 at 12:56PM

Listen up, Cumberbitches: The first estate was the clergy, the second the nobility, the third the peasantry, the fourth the press, and “The Fifth Estate” is all Benedict Cumberbatch, who in Bill Condon’s painstaking WikiLeaks movie gives us the not the Julian Assange we know, but rather the Julian Assange we want. And maybe need.
2
Benedict Cumberbatch in "The Fifth Estate"
Benedict Cumberbatch in "The Fifth Estate"

Listen up, Cumberbitches: The first estate was the clergy, the second the nobility, the third the peasantry, the fourth the press, and “The Fifth Estate” is all Benedict Cumberbatch, who in Bill Condon’s painstaking WikiLeaks movie gives us the not the Julian Assange we know, but rather the Julian Assange we want. And maybe need.

It would be natural to think that Cumberbatch was working at a disadvantage, considering all the exposure the real Assange has had in the media, and the widespread familiarity of his rather distancing, white-maned persona, but the opposite is true. Cumberbatch adopts the WikiLeaks founder’s Australian cadences, and even a few of the mannerisms, but the more impressive trick is how he imbues Assange – someone we think we know -- with warmth, zeal and modesty, in a character whose reflex is to conceal those very qualities from those around him. 

How close is he to the real Assange? God knows, but Cumberbatch’s Assange is ultimately likable, as well as complex, at war with keepers of secrets and also with himself. It’s early to be speculating about awards, but Cumberbatch has certainly accomplished the unlikely, making a chilly public character a sympathetic martyr to a noble cause. (Rather than denounce the movie the real Assange should be counting his blessings, there in the Ecuadoran Embassy).

Less impressive is director Condon’s efforts in making the virtual dramatic. A lot of what WikiLeaks accomplished in its revelations of Swiss banking scandals, Kenyan political corruption, Icelandic banking shenanigans and the atrocities committed by U.S. helicopter pilots in Baghdad was about data, numbers, coding and encryption. There’s a lot of computerized anxiety generated in the early sequences of the film, but screens filled with glowing green characters are not the same as skies filled with flying monkeys. It’s a cautionary movie politically, but also cinematically: The more our lives are lived online, the more directors are going to have to wrestle with making the inherently undramatic engaging.

Condon eventually just gives up: When Assange confederates Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl)  and Marcus (Moritz Bleibtrau) sabotage the WikiLeaks site in an effort to keep Assange from releasing unredacted intelligence materials, Condon goes all magic-realist, having Daniel trash a metaphorical office to illustrate the havoc being played on line; in the aftermath of the betrayal, Assange walks across a trashed, burning landscape, with mirages of his much younger blond self haunting his dream. It’s not bad, but it’s a little desperate.

Based on two books – Domscheit-Berg’s "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website" and David Leigh and Luke Harding’s "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy" – “The Fifth Estate” addresses the accusations against Assange, which led him to hole up with the Ecuadorans in London, only in its end titles.  That the movie is pro-Assange (not “anti-WikiLeaks” as Assange has alleged) is evident, but given Cumberbatch’s performance, it could hardly be otherwise.

Our interview with screenwriter Josh Singer is here. Assange's assault on the media is covered here. Alex Gibney's interview on his WikiLeaks documentary "We Steal Secrets" is here.

This article is related to: Festivals, Reviews, Reviews, Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, The Fifth Estate, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Bill Condon


E-Mail Updates