Audiences May Not Plead for Busy 'Fifth'

By Harvey, Dennis | Variety, September 10, 2013 | Go to article overview

Audiences May Not Plead for Busy 'Fifth'


Harvey, Dennis, Variety


Audiences May Not Plead for Busy 'Fifth'

Ripped from headlines that still feel wet (even if its subjects might suggest that phrasing gives print media too much credit), "The Fifth Estate" dramatizes the fast, controversial rise of anonymous-whistleblower website WikiLeaks and its figurehead, Julian Assange. Aiming to provide the kind of speculative personality portrait behind another sweeping digital-age change in communication that touches nearly everyone, a la "The Social Network," helmer Bill Condon and scenarist Josh Singer's film must also stuff in a heavy load of global events, all in a hyperkinetic style aping today's speed of information dispersal. Results can't Director: help but stimulate, but Bill Condon they're also cluttered and starring: overly frenetic, resulting in a narrative less informative, Daniel Bruehi cogent and even emotionally engaging than Alex Gibney's recent docu "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks." Initial interest should be high, though likely mixed critical and word-of-mouth response may dampen B.O. staying power.

The pic leaps into the peak October 2010 moment of WikiLeaks' fame and notoriety, when, in tandem with the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel, Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) began releasing an enormous store of leaked classified U.S. government documents. The resulting fracas outshone even prior firestorms incurred by WikiLeaks' exposure of the American military's massacre of unarmed civilians and journalists in Afghanistan; Swiss bank Julius Baer providing a massive tax dodge for wealthy clients worldwide; and ugly truths behind Iceland's economic collapse. As postscripts note, Assange remains in hiding (at Ecuador's London embassy) while governments call for his extradition.

The remainder of the film tracks back to 2007, when Assange first makes contact with German technology activ- ist Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruehl), whom he trusts enough to make a close collaborator - rare for a man whose paranoias are reinforced not only by the dangerous intel he helps make public, but by a traumatic upbringing.

Daniel is an enthusiastic acolyte, so much so that the devotion Julian demands soon exasperates Daniel's girlfriend (Alicia Vikander in a standard thankless role). The mysterious, seemingly large Wiki organization Assange frequently alludes to turns out to be nothing but "a website, a couple email addresses, and you," he eventually admits, though others join - notably Daniel's hacker friend Marcus (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Icelandic agitator Birgitta Jonsdottir (Carice van Houten). …

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