In the summer Alex Gibney released his documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of the WikiLeaks showing the world what went on behind closed doors of the infamous whistle-blowing website. Now Director Bill Condon shows us his fictional version of the story in his film The Fifth Estate.
Both films try to unravel the story behind WikiLeaks and Julian Assange’s rise and fall and both struggle with all the possible angles. While Gibney just documents what happened, Condon takes some creative leeway and turns the story into something close to a thriller.
When Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) meets Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) he is fascinated by his single mindedness and desire for total transparency. Soon the two start working together, finding secrets and generating a buzz around the WikiLeaks.
As the website grows and gains followers Julian finds himself trust into the limelight, and enjoying it. But while his fame increases so does his paranoia and secret keeping. Daniel on the other hand struggles to maintain his normal life and while he believes in the importance of their venture he starts to realise that Julian is not all he may seem to be. As the cracks appear in their friendship the secrets they unfold become bigger and more dangerous, they are forced to decide between total transparency or protecting sources and innocents.
The Fifth Estate is based on the book Inside WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg yet it still seems to be in two minds about whether or not Assange is the villain in the story or not. This ambivalent attitude towards the lead character in the film creates a lot of messiness in the plot and leaves quite a few questions unanswered.
That being said Cumberbatch is the perfect choice for the role of Assange. He somehow manages to replicate Assanges unique halting speech patterns, jerky movements and twitchy nervousness without ever just being an imitation. Brühl also finds his stride as his loyal spokesperson and fallen believer towards the end.
The main problem that The Fifth Estate faces is Laura Linney’s role as the fictitious State Department official Sarah Shaw and Stanley Tucci as her right-hand man James Boswell. Somehow their part in the story feels like an ‘ad-on’, just there to show that they US State Department has hypothetical blood on their hands.
Overall The Fifth Estate makes a good attempt at telling modern day story but at times does seem to get carried a way a little with visual concepts, bombarding the viewer with an array of virtual maps, electronic front pages and a virtual office.
The Fifth Estate is filled with ideas but even the extensive 128 minutes just aren’t enough to cover any of them in too much detail. Leaving the viewer with many unanswered questions, one of which is: does Assange really dye his hair?