Benedict Cumberbatch stuns as Julian Assange, though The Fifth Estate ultimately fails.
Benedict Cumberbatch's blinding portrayal of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is the saving grace of Bill Condon's new movie The Fifth Estate, which hits theaters in the U.S. this weekend. It tells the story of how the whistleblowing website changed the game forever, exposing deceptions and corruptions of power in the 21st century.
The Fifth Estate Poster
The underrated Daniel Bruhl takes on the role of Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange's trusted colleague who together became underground watchdogs for the privileged and powerful. They begin leaking low level governmental data though quickly begin breaking more hard news than the major news organizations put together.
When Assange and Berg gain access to the biggest trove of confidential intelligence documents in U.S history, they battle each other over the moral issue of exposing potentially dangerous secrets in a free-society.
Cumberbatch, an actor seemingly at the top of his game, is excellent as Assange.
"There's no doubt that Benedict Cumberbatch does a very good job as the impassioned, imperious and mercurial Assange." said Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian.
"Cumberbatch doesn't just look like Assange in this film, from the lank white hair to the narrow, suspicious eyes. He inhabits him," said Brian Viner of the Daily Mail.
Benedict Cumberbatch [L] as Julian Assange in 'The Fifth Estate'
Unfortunately for Condon and Disney, the movie itself doesn't hold up to further scrutiny - it all appears to be one huge missed opportunity. Cumberbatch is perfect, though not enough time has gone into developing a script that the complex story deserves.
"Like WikiLeaks itself, The Fifth Estate collapses under the sheer weight of information and political import bearing down upon it, its human drama crushed by documentary data overload," said Film4.
"Condon strains to recreate the curdled friendship dynamic that powered The Social Network, David Fincher's Facebook creation story, but Assange is too cartoonish and Berg too bland for their relationship to grip," said Robbie Collin of the Daily Telegraph.
""The Fifth Estate" accomplishes its intent: offering some insight into an important milestone in history and prompting viewers to question and debate what they have just witnessed. Unfortunately, it takes too long to get there," said the San Jose Mercury News.
"No matter how elaborately you trick out the shot, watching actors type on computer keyboards just isn't all that dramatic; even if they're typing really, really hard and really, really fast," said the Metro Times.
Daniel Bruhl [L] and Benedict Cumberbatch [R] in The Fifth Estate
"The Fifth Estate tries to ape its subject's bravado and innovation to near-disastrous results," wrote Cinema Blend, going for the jugular.
Of course, Cumberbatch could have always heeded the warning of the prescient Assange. It was revealed in a leaked email this week that the WikiLeaks founder refused to meet with the British actor while he was preparing to play him, describing Bill Condon's movie as "toxic" and "distorted," and forebodingly urging Cumberbatch to "reconsider your involvement in this enterprise."
Released via WikiLeaks though recreated in full on Variety's website, the email makes it clear that Assange considered the movie - which has received mainly negative reviews - was a "bad idea."
"By meeting with you I would validate this wretched film," he wrote. "I cannot permit this film any claim to authenticity or truthfulness. In its current form it has neither, and doing so would only further aid the campaign against me."
The Fifth Estate hits theaters in the U.S. on October 18, 2013.