Complete A-Z list

Fifth Estate, The


Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Moritz Bleibtreu, Carice van Houten, Dan Stevens, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney

Director: Bill Condon

Prior to seeing Bill Condon’s fascinating take on the now legendary whistleblower Julian Assange, I’d have been hard put to come up with anything that could make Britain’s ‘Guardian’ newspaper seem even more smug than it already is.

Condon triumphantly proves it is possible.

He and screenwriter Josh Singer have succeeded in raising the ‘Guardian’ to new heights of trendiness with their unremitting product placement for the newspaper – along with ‘Der Spiegel’ and ‘The New York Times’ in telling their version of Assange’s story. Hopefully they’ll smuggle a DVD into the Ecuadorian Embassy where Assange is currently ensconced so that he can enjoy the film.

The central thrust of the drama sees Wikileaks founder Assange and his German colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg teaming up to become the underground arbiters of right and wrong among members of the privileged and powerful.

And they succeed. Their website attracts a legion of anonymous whistle-blowers to expose government secrets to the harsh light of publicity, aided and abetted by all-too-willing media whistle-blowers, notably Britain’s ‘Guardian’, Germany’s ‘Der Spiegel’ and America’s ‘New York Times’.

Remember, The Fifth Estate is a docudrama, which may mean, as usual, that facts may have been tilted to make a better movie. Maybe so:. In this case, my response has to be, “So what?” The Fifth Estate is also compelling and chilling and, even if there are decorations and elisions, who cares? The film grabs you and holds you gripped as potently as any fictional thriller…

For my money (and yes, I would happily have paid to see the film) his potent portrait of Assange marks Benedict Cumberbatch’s finest work to date, even better than his small-screen Sherlock Holmes, his Star Trek villain Khan and his naked on-stage writhing as The Creature in the National Theatre production of Frankenstein.

His Australian accent is impeccable, his performance of a man sometimes blinded by the sheer magnitude of his unexpected ability to shake the world is hugely impressive. Daniel Brühl is equally good as the rather less-driven Domscheit-Berg and useful support comes from David Thewlis as the veteran ‘Guardian’ reporter Nick Davies who broke the story under the editorship of Alan Rushbridger, neatly played by Peter Capaldi, a piece of casting that now makes the character rather less credible than intended since it is difficult now to accept ‘Dr Who’ as a Fleet Street mover and shaker.

Whether or not you believe all that you see really doesn’t really matter. Condon and Company deliver a fascinating and compelling picture.

Alan Frank

USA/Belgium 2013. UK Distributor: Entertainment One. Colour.
128 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 11 Oct 2013