The Fifth Estate
Directed by Bill Condon
Three of the largest news media organizations in the world, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and The New York Times, communicate with one another, pressing for more time as they all prepare to publish the same story by their collective deadline. The story in question? The leaking of 75,000 documents pertaining to the Afghanistan War.
These 75,000 documents are part of one of the largest leaks in the history of the U.S. military. Unfortunately, “The Fifth Estate,” directed by Bill Condon, fails in its efforts to capture the essence of tension and suspense needed for not only such a massive and historic event, but also for the thriller genre in general.
The film, which chronicles the establishment of the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks that first leaked the reports, disappoints because of its pacing. The movie is incredibly slow, taking too much time to establish what WikiLeaks does and its impact on the world during the course of the film, while taking no time to show any of the major issues they have leaked in detail.
The characters talk about exposing corruption in politics, business and war all over the world, but they treat it with no sense of gravitas or importance. Thanks to poor direction and unimaginative writing, they come off as uninterested with how most of the outcomes of the movie occur. Even when two of their sources are killed in a political attack, they act concerned for a brief moment, then it’s back to just mindlessly typing on a keyboard for another hour. If the film isn’t interested in the development of action, then the audience should have no reason to be either.
The few times the film does gain momentum is when it introduces characters such as Carice van Houten and Moritz Bleibtreu, who play WikiLeaks representatives Birgitta Jónsdóttir and Marcus — his character is given no last name, thanks to the brilliant writing of this film. However, just like the overall plot, the film takes no time to establish character development, personality or even backstory. The film briefly mentions their name and what their job is before moving ahead to the next underdeveloped character, such as Stanley Tucci playing a generic government agent or David Thewlis as The Guardian journalist Nick Davies. These figures seem to exist only to make the audience laugh at funny moments and cry at sad ones. They have no personalities of their own, merely acting as slates showing how the viewers should react to different instances.
The only redeeming aspect of this movie is Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Playing an awkward and contemptuous outcast who is still charming and sympathetic, Cumberbatch brings passion, understanding and, most importantly, integrity to a role that many may have simply played as an odd, eccentric caricature.
Cumberbatch showcases this very well during one of his first encounters with WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl), telling him that if he truly wants to change the world, it requires complete commitment. This is both a well-written line and a testament to Cumberbatch’s own acting abilities. The audience connects with him, noting how his loneliness is a product of his own dedication. As Assange, Cumberbatch views his own life as a price that must be paid in order to achieve justice for the people of the world, and it proves to be a very powerful moment.
Sadly, it is not enough to save this poor excuse for a thriller. Bland characters, a slow pace and no real sense of excitement all combine to turn this potentially thought-provoking film about how far society must go in order to learn the truth into two hours of uninteresting boredom.
Overall rating: One and a half out of four stars