The Fifth Estate (2013)

FIFTHBy: Matt Conway (Two Beers) –

Perhaps the biggest rise for an actor this year is Benedict Cumberbatch. After doing many supporting roles in films like War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soilder Spy, and staring in the popular mini-series Sherlock, Cumberbatch made a big leap this year. After a dynamic performance as George Harrison in Star Trek Into Darkness, people began to open their eyes and see the talents of Cumberbatch. The breakout year for him is not over yet, with roles lined up in August: Osage Country, 12 Years a Slave, and Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Still, the only leading role he has this year is in The Fifth Estate. 

The Fifth Estate was slated at the start of fall as one of the interesting players in the Oscar race. With Cumberbatch starring along with the other rising star Daniel Bruhl, a great concept, and Oscar level talent behind the screen, many were saying this could have a big impact on the race. Since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, that talk has died down. Both critics and audiences largely dismissed the film, and the film holds a poor 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. With this poor reception, the hype for the movie has died down completely, and the film is just being dumped out in theaters practically. Despite the negative reviews, The Fifth Estate is an overall well-made flick.

The Fifth Estate follows the real life story of Julian Assange, the founder of the controversial WikiLeaks website. WikiLeaks is dedicated to getting out the truth, no matter how tough it is. Assange, along with partner Daniel Berg, experience the highs and lows of their company while trying to get out the truth, no matter the cost.

A Toast

Benedict Cumberbatch has made a quick rise to fame for a reason, and he shows that off here. Cumberbatch captures Assange in a very convincing and articulate way, and really disappears into the role. He is able to really build the character up, and take him on an arc in a subtle way. As the corporation’s success heightens, so does the hubris of the character, but he is also given a some development to really flesh out the character.

From terrorist, to hacker, and finally, a dragon!

Daniel Bruhl, coming off  his fantastic performance in Rush, gives a solid performance. Sure, his performance is not as big as his dynamic take in Rush, but Bruhl does some nice work with a bit of a simple character. Bruhl gives what could be a forgettable character a great deal of depth and humanity. His chemistry with Cumberbatch is great, as the two have a very natural relationship. Their arc is the heart of the movie in a way.

The supporting cast of the film features several established names. Veterans like Peter Capaldi, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, and Anthony Mackie all give credibility to their roles, and do a great job respectively. There characters do not have that much to work with, but they were not characters that needed development due to their relatively small roles in the film.

Director Bill Condon has had mixed success in his career, with Dreamgirls being rather successful, and the Twilight: Breaking Dawns being rather dreadful. Here, Condon really goes for it, as he directs the film in a very aggressively stylized way. While this can be a problem for some audiences, the risk here worked well for me. Instead of seeing the kind of safely directed film that was suspected, Condon made the film a lot more interesting with his stylistic choices.

Condon also does a great job of keeping the film engaging. This is a two hour plus film about people on computers basically, but he is able to make it interesting throughout, and even thrilling at parts. There is a great sense of pace, as the film moves along well while being able to take its time and establish story and character.


The aesthetics are great. Condon along with cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler do a great job creating the film’s look. The film is good looking for sure, from the wild European clubs to the sleek office buildings, the two create a very professional look throughout. The score in the film by Carter Burwell along with the rest of the music department has a very new age techno feel that fits well due to the film being about the new age of journalism. It’s catchy and heightens the engagement in the scenes that the score features.

Time to defend the aspects of the film that are being trashed. One of the biggest complaints said by critics and audiences is that the film does not go deep enough into Julian Assange as a character. Well for me, The Fifth Estate does a nice job of capturing  Assange in a subtle way. Even today, we don’t know a whole lot about the guy, so giving him this fully detailed backstory would be disingenuous. Instead, we see Cumberbatch capture him as a guy who keeps much of what he is thinking inside, giving him a certain mystery and deception. This worked well, because it’s how Assange is in life.

My other point to defend is what the film is really about. Many are saying that this is a character piece on Assange, but that is more of a side aspect of the film. For me, The Fifth Estate is a piece about journalism, and those who seek it. Looking at the film from that perspective, The Fifth Estate works, and works well, as it brings up many questions about journalism today.

Two Beers

The Fifth Estate really lacks focus. John Singer in his first film screenplay had a very tough task, taking material from two books about the subject and adapting it all into one film. The film at times feels like a hodgepodge between two books, as there are many sub-plots that never really get any proper development. Ranging from Bruhl’s relationship to a character on the run after having their identity leaked, The Fifth Estate is all over the place at times.

In part with the problem of focus is the problem of having too much information dished out to the audience. The Fifth Estate is the kind of movie that thinks with its brain rather than heart, which is fine, but can get a bit too information-heavy at parts. During these parts, some of the goings-on can get a bit convoluted, due to the fact that there is just too much going on.

What is going on!
What is going on!

A minor complaint involves a fourth wall scene in the film. Fourth wall moments in general are tough to pull off, and honestly hardly work in films. The Fifth Estate makes an attempt at breaking the fourth wall, and it just kind of feels out of place and pointless. This one scene is very minor though, so it’s hard to rail on the film too much for it.


While it is sure to have its detractors, The Fifth Estate is a bold and engaging thriller that features great performances from its cast. Ignore the bad buzz and give it a chance.


Drinking Game: 

Take a Drink: For each shot of a computer screen.

Take a Drink: During each night club scene.

Take a Drink: When Benedict Cumberbatch dances.

Do the Cumberpatch!


About Matt Conway

I love movies and sports and run on sentences. You can find me at a basketball court, the local theater, or napping on a couch somewhere.

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