An existing interest in the Julian Assange scandal is not an absolute requirement to make “The Fifth Estate” watchable. But it would definitely help.
You could also be a die-hard Benedict Cumberbatch freak to want to sit through this lengthy, fact-based and star-studded drama. I will leave it to you, dear reader, to guess which camp I fall into.
The high-cheekboned, gloriously named star of the BBC’s “Sherlock” is riveting to watch as the intelligent but morally-suspect Assange, the Australian founder of the infamous website WikiLeaks, which was ostensibly created as a safe platform for whistleblowers to expose society’s most egregious capitalists, warlords and other powers that be.
He would’ve been a lot more riveting if they had trimmed this thing down about 20 minutes or so. I love Benedict Cumberbatch, but that’s a lot of rivets, even for him. Plus he’s disfigured by a weird hairdo, but this might not mean as much to all viewers as it does to me.
The entire cast is great actually- even Dan Stevens aka Matthew Crawley is in it. He was good too, but not good enough to kill off his character on “Downton Abbey” for God sakes. (Why Matthew why?)
The story, as a detailed journalistic procedural drama, was appropriately peopled with intelligent actors that I love- Laura Linney, Peter Capaldi, Stanley Tucci, and David Thewlis.
Above all, Daniel Bruhl was highly watchable as Assange’s second in command, and all these interesting people grappled with compelling questions about what their rights and responsibilities were towards the information they were handed. And yet, somewhere along the lines, the drama failed to really snap.
The whole business was dragged down by being over-explained by the director, beginning with a totally didactic montage at the beginning, showing the ways that information has changed over the centuries, just to let us know that we’re in a new digital age. This impulse continues with several interrupting visual sequences in which the virtual exchanges of information are literally acted out in these fake offices.
I would have shaved time off by deleting these unnecessary scenes, which were kind of goofy and naïve.
Nevertheless, this is a truly worthwhile story and even if the filmmaker’s perspective ends up being distinctly biased towards a certain point of view about Assange, there is plenty of gray area left to ponder. That is if (and this is a big if) you start this movie early enough in the evening and make it through to the end.