The Fifth Estate (2013)

“A Thought-Provoking, Well-Executed Depiction of an Intriguing Story” 10/10


The Wikileaks story was one of the biggest news events of recent times due to its controversial nature, and it seemed to appear from nowhere. Suddenly the media was buzzing about leaked confidential documents and the mysterious character of Julian Assange. The Fifth Estate is a dramatic biography based on these real events, and tells the story from the perspective of one of Assange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) colleagues, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl). I knew about the story but only what had been covered in the media, and it turns out that it was just the tip of the iceberg.

The Fifth Estate is filmed in such a style that it tells the story without it feeling like a documentary – it depicts the unfolding of events from the beginning of the Wikileaks launch to its climactic ending in a way that makes you feel like you understand the entire story clearly, but without effort. It is incredibly linear and easy to follow, and wonderfully visual: the use of graphics to depict the website itself, and the private messages that Assange and Berg use to communicate new leaks, are woven into the acting scenes, reminding you that this is part of a covert world that many of us are entirely unfamiliar with. Particularly well done is the portrayal of the Wikileaks “office” inside Assange’s head, which again reinforces the idea of the secret world of the story.

Most of the film is told from Berg’s perspective and as a result many of the scenes just involve him and Assange. Benedict Cumberbatch shines in one of his most impressive roles, depicting Assange and his mannerisms with a spooky accuracy, and there is a constant air of mystery and depth to his character that remains intriguing throughout the film. This is the first time I have seen Daniel Bruhl in a main role, but having seen him in Inglorious Basterds (2009) I expected a good performance and was not disappointed. Bruhl’s character is every bit as intriguing as that of Assange, and I found myself constantly trying to work him out and understand his underlying motives. I felt that there was an interesting dimension to the relationship between Assange and Berg, a reliance of sorts and a constant fear of misplaced trust, although this is subtle throughout and therefore hard to work out if it is intentional. There are also some great supporting roles to watch out for from the likes of David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi and Alicia Vikander, who all bring their own character’s dimension to add to the mix.

After I saw this film when it first came out I was interested in finding out more about what Julian Assange’s perspective of the story was, and I came across a document published on the Wikileaks site giving his side of the story. It is an incredibly interesting read, and a lot of it ties in with the final scene of the film which is a monologue from Cumberbatch. I felt that I had a fairly solid view of the story whilst watching the film, and then that final scene changed everything. The document from Assange confirms my change of heart about the story, and echoes the message he is always trying to put across: if you want the truth, go out and seek it for yourself. Everyone will of course have their own opinions about the events that unfolded surrounding this story, and I am not in any way dismissing the version presented in The Fifth Estate; instead I choose to believe that there is truth to be found in both the film and from Assange’s perspective.

The Fifth Estate held my interest from the second it began to long after the final scene had ended: it is highly thought-provoking and throws some challenging questions at you about the way we view the world, what we believe to be true, and what we do not and may never know. I can’t recommend this film highly enough.