Review: The Fifth Estate

This interesting but underdone drama ultimately tells us far less than we’d like to know about Julian Assange

The Fifth Estate
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Director: Bill Condon
Cert: 15A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis
Running Time: 2 hrs 8 mins

As long ago as War Games (1983), cinema was seen to get flustered in the face of this new-fangled, whatsit computer business. By Hackers (1995), the elder medium's inadequacies had coalesced into a full-blown crisis. There was no easy way for film to represent computers and computing. And when it came to the internet, the 10th muse was not waving but drowning.

Can "The Wikileaks Movie" starring – be still our fluttering Cumberbitch hearts – Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange fare any better?

Not quite. The Fifth Estate works awfully hard to represent such corporeally challenged notions as sock puppets and denial-of-service attacks. Working from a screenplay by Josh Singer (Fringe, The West Wing), Twilight sequel director Bill Condon visualises empty, snowy rooms and batches of multiple (about damned time) Benedict Cumberbatches in a glossy, dreamy, corny way that reminds the viewer of, well, the Twilight sequels.

By now you know the plot: Berliner boffin Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) is charmed by charismatic Assange into working for Wikileaks, a non-profit platform for anonymous document leaking. Once Assange’s quest against secrecy attracts admirers and prominent leeches – take a bow, newspapers of the world – his controlling, petulant tendencies become increasingly apparent.


Carting around a big broken bromance, The Fifth Estate really, really wants to be All the President's Men when it grows up. To this end, the final section gains an impressive dramatic momentum, and Cumberbatch and Brühl certainly match the mad skills of Hoffman and Redford.

They are, unhappily, hampered by a narrative that relies heavily on such unlovely, sexist movie clichés as Nagging Girlfriend and on the tired notion that we’re watching Assange through the eyes of a disgruntled former employee.

Cumberbatch, against the odds, brings an Asperger cool to the Wikileaks founder. But we might, one feels, learn more about Julian Assange by staring at the walls of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he currently resides.

No whistles were blown during the making of this movie: what a shame.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic