x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Cumberbatch compellingly captures Assange in a film which see-saws between characters and plot-lines at a dizzying rate.

From left, Benedict Cumberbatch, Carice van Houten, Daniel Bruhl and Moritz Bleibtreu in a scene from The Fifth Estate. Toronto International Film Festival AP Photo
From left, Benedict Cumberbatch, Carice van Houten, Daniel Bruhl and Moritz Bleibtreu in a scene from The Fifth Estate. Toronto International Film Festival AP Photo

Director: Bill Condon Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander ⋆⋆⋆

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There are times when a performance can almost save a film. Take Benedict Cumberbatch in The Fifth Estate, Bill Condon’s new drama about Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks website. With his shock of white hair and soft-spoken Aussie drawl, Cumberbatch compellingly captures Assange, despite almost being thrown off balance by a film which see-saws between characters and plot-lines at a dizzying rate. Based on two separate accounts of the controversial Australian, at its core is Assange’s strained relationship with the author of one, his former WikiLeaks colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl). Sadly, their friendship lacks the human drama seen in 2010’s The Social Network, which turned squabbles over founding Facebook into a Herculean power struggle. Instead, we get Domscheit-Berg fretting about his on-off girlfriend, pointlessly. It doesn’t help that Condon visualises, cheaply, exchanges in cyberspace as if characters are in a warehouse full of computers. At least the second half is more driven, as the British journalists (Peter Capaldi, David Thewlis) work with Assange towards his website’s defining moment – publishing 250,000 leaks sent by the American soldier Bradley Manning. But even here, you can’t help but feel just the surface gets scratched. As for Assange, despite Cumberbatch’s best efforts, he remains an elusive, enigmatic figure.