The Fifth Estate normally refers to the alternative media that consists of online journalists and bloggers as an alternative to the mainstream press.
This fictionalised recreation of events surrounding the whistleblowing web site WikiLeaks and its founder and editor in chief Julian Assange is a drama for the digital age. Based on the memoirs of Daniel Domscheit-Berg a German technology activist who was until September 2010 Assange’s right hand man and the WikiLeaks spokesperson. Perhaps not quite the character assassination carried out in Alex Gidney’s overlong documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013) but still not the complete story of this intricate character that appears to have dedicated his whole life to exposing incriminating secrets. The sexual accusations levelled at Assange are skimmed over, as are his upbringing in a sect, and the existence of a son, Daniel, and a daughter born in 2006. The films narrative concentrates on his thorny partnership with Domscheit-Berg.
The best thing about The Fifth Estate (2013) is it gives a platform to exhibit the acting skill of Benedict Cumberbatch in playing the part of autocratic Assange which he gets just right, ‘the voice and the slightly jerky, stiff, awkward demeanor,’ all matching perfectly what we have seen on our TV screens while he has been holed up in London’s Ecuadorian embassy. But I can’t help but opining that Bill Condon may not have been the right director for this overtly political drama with an oeuvre that has included The Twilight Saga’s 1 and 2 and the musical drama Dreamgirls (2006)! There’s still a better film out there somewhere!