Who is Julian Assange? The Fifth Estate tries to answer part of that question using Benedict Cumberbatch. The British actor plays the founder of the website that’s become a thorn in the government’s side. Director Bill Condon takes us into the organization that puts entire nations under fire, including the mighty U.S. of A.

The Players

  • Director: Bill Condon
  • Screenwriter: Josh Singer
  • Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie, Dan Stevens, Peter Capaldi, Moritz Bleibtreu, Carice van Houten, Alicia Vikander
  • Cinematography by: Tobias A. Schliessler
  • Original Music by: Carter Burwell

The Plot:

WikiLeaks gives whistleblowers a platform to release confidential information. It’s completely anonymous and run by hacker-turned-activist Julian Assange. Due to the site’s growing popularity, Assange recruits Daniel Berg to help with future endeavors. During Berg’s tenure, he witnesses one of the biggest leaks in modern history. With Assange’s new found power, he makes a decision that irreparably damages national security.

The Good:

  • Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl: Cumberbatch and Bruhl have left the building. Both actors disappear into their roles leaving only Assange and Berg. Their tag team performance is polarizing. Cumberbatch’s Assange is eccentric but determined, while Bruhl’s Berg is wide-eyed and earnest. Cumberbatch undergoes a physical transformation that alters his hair, face and even teeth. But what sells his portrayal is his body language. The upright posture of Khan or Sherlock Holmes is nowhere to be seen. Assange is loose and slinky, almost reptilian. You can tell Cumberbatch studied this man inside and out.
  • The Visuals: Who said typing is boring? Like David Fincher with The Social Network, Bill Condon makes typing an event. He adds interesting visuals that make the otherwise mundane activity worth watching. The film isn’t just about two computer nerds tapping keys. It’s a movement filled with real danger and consequences.
  • Editing: This goes hand and hand with the visuals. The film’s cut in a way that keeps you on the edge or your seat. The editorial department made every key moment feel like it was life or death. That paired with Condon’s direction makes it a cinematic treat.

The So-So:

  • Lack of Background: Julian Assange is very secretive and has every right to be. Even though The Fifth Estate is based on two books, one by Berg himself, we never get a full picture of Assange. Very little is known about his childhood and because of that there’s a lot of mystery surrounding him. We would have loved to know more about what made him so weary of the government. Or even the true story behind his famous hair color. It may seem petty but the devil is in the details.
  • The Consequences: The big story that brought WikiLeaks and Assange to the forefront was the release of graphic videos and thousands of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables. The film only shows a portion of the fallout. What about the effect this breech had on a larger scale? In this instance, there was a lot of telling, instead of showing.


The Fifth Estate won’t go down in history as one of the greatest “based on a true story” tales. But it should be remembered for its great performances. Cumberbatch and Bruhl did their homework and it shows.

The Rating: 7/10

The Fifth Estate opens in theaters October 18.

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Will you be seeing The Fifth Estate this weekend?