Movie Review: The Fifth Estate

My husband and I have been big Benedict Cumberbatch fans since we started watching BBC’s Sherlock several years ago. I may have done an ecstatic dance in my seat when we went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness in the theatre and saw Benedict as the creepy-scary-awesome Khan.

We love Benedict Cumberbatch so much that we have affectionate nicknames for him, such as:

  • Cumbersmudge;
  • Bumbershoot;
  • Cumbermuffins; and
  • Polski Ogorki. (It is a true testament to our relationship that I once referred to Benedict Cumberbatch by the name of a type of Polish pickles, and my husband actually understood what I meant.)

movies-fifth-estateLong story short, I was intrigued by the idea of my friend Cumbersmudge playing Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in The Fifth Estate, which opens in Canada on October 18.

A lot of other heavy hitters star in The Fifth Estate – the first few minutes of the film had a number of familiar faces. Along with Cumberpickles, the film’s cast includes:

  • David Thewlis (Lupin from Harry Potter);
  • Dan Stevens (the recently-departed Matthew Crawley from Downtown Abbey – sniffle);
  • Peter Capaldi (the new Doctor in Doctor Who!);
  • Laura Linney (who plays one of my favourite characters in Love Actually); and
  • Stanley Tucci (every movie ever).

Film Overview 

The film is a fast-paced introduction to the WikiLeaks and how it shaped the news between 2007 and 2010. During this period, it broke several huge news scandals, including the fact that a Swiss bank was illegally sheltering money for its clients.

How do they become such a powerhouse? Julian Assange’s mission was (and still is, out here in the real world) to force powerful nations, institutions and corporations into transparency by leaking private (and potentially-embarrassing) information. To do this, he created an anonymous online submission platform for whistleblowers to submit documents (hence the “leaks” part of “WikiLeaks”) to his website.

Over the course of the film, Julian Assange and his right-hand man, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (the film’s protagonist) take WikiLeaks from a one-man operation to a news behemoth that created nightmares for governments and companies worldwide. The film’s locales are beautiful (Kenya, Germany, England, Iceland), and Cumbermelons even manages to make Assange’s white hair look good.


What I found interesting about The Fifth Estate:

1)     It made me question the reality behind events I see on the news. The Fifth Estate raises some scary questions about the privacy and transparency of data, and the corruption of governments and corporations. I enjoyed that it made me question the presentation of “facts” that we see in our mainstream media sources.

2)     Julian Assange himself hates this film – he’s publicly criticized it for being inaccurate (or, in his words, a “propaganda attack”). The screenplay was based on two books (one written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg), and these books are critical of Assange, who is sometimes portrayed as a merciless crusader with no capacity for sympathy. (An amusing irony, in retrospect: can we trust this film’s representation of WikiLeaks, an organization that releases unfiltered information?)

What I didn’t like about The Fifth Estate:

1)     The film is hard to follow if you aren’t familiar with Assange/WikiLeaks. The film is fast-paced, which is great – but if it’s your introduction to WikiLeaks and/or the Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning intelligence leak, it’s bewilderingly quick. As we were leaving the screening, I overheard several people say that they weren’t familiar with WikiLeaks, and the way the film jumped between multiple locations and scandals was overwhelming/hard to understand.

2)     The technology behind WikiLeaks is difficult to understand. Simply put, WikiLeaks was created by a hacker, and the filmmakers definitely had a hard job trying to explain coding and hacking concepts to a general audience.  Many of the coding scenes take place in an imaginary newsroom, with shifting sand floors beneath infinite rows of fluorescent lights and computers on desks.  Characters were suddenly transported to this figurative newsroom with little warning, and by the second or third time I saw this set, I felt like I was being hit over the head with the metaphor.

Would I see The Fifth Estate twice? Probably not – but I enjoyed it, and if you’re technologically inclined and/or into current events, it’s an absorbing movie with a talented cast and some great commentary about truth, transparency and justice. I could even see The Fifth Estate being a great date movie – it will give you lots to talk about afterward! :)

Quick Details

Theatrical Release Date: October 18, 2013
Runtime: 128 minutes
Carla’s rating: 3/5 stars

Will you be seeing this movie?

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