In its own Hollywood way,
The surprise in this film, starring actor-of-the-moment
Given the talents of Cumberbatch and Brühl, whose credits include "Good Bye, Lenin,"
As written by "West Wing" veteran Josh Singer and directed by Condon, who took on a similar task with "Kinsey," "The Fifth Estate" does a solid job making audiences consider the pros and cons of issues involving governmental secrecy, complicity with power and the price of openness. The back and forth on-screen will not replace the conversation in the New York Review of Books, but seeing a studio film deal with issues at all is more than we're used to.
Ironically, "The Fifth Estate" is at its most frustrating where it might have been suspected of being strongest, which is the creation of drama outside the main events involving the leads. The periodic attempts the film makes to add peripheral interest to the main story come up short in ways Cumberbatch and Brühl manage to avoid.
"The Fifth Estate" opens in 2010 with WikiLeaks' greatest triumph, the coordinated release through three mainstream outlets — the
Because Domscheit-Berg's book, "Inside WikiLeaks," is one of screenwriter Singer's key sources, we then flash back a few years and begin to see events from his, rather than Assange's, point of view.
With Assange criticizing the film vehemently in numerous forums and the filmmakers freely admitting that a certain amount of fictionalizing takes place, complete veracity is not to be expected, but, as with
The flashbacks begin in Berlin in 2008, and introduce us to Domscheit-Berg, the resident computer genius for a bank, who is anti-establishment enough to ride his bike through the office as attractive co-worker Anke ("A Royal Affair's" Alicia Vikander) looks on approvingly.
Domscheit-Berg and Assange meet at something called the Chaos Communication Congress, a hackers assembly where Assange, though he established WikiLeaks two years earlier, is still pretty much an unknown quantity.
Given how anyone who knows anything about WikiLeaks today can tell you that it was then-Pvt.
Though inevitably a bit overshadowed by his colleague, Brühl does excellent work as well by bringing intelligence and energy to what could have been a second-banana role. He makes us understand how seductive the WikiLeaks mission was when it involved obvious bad guys like Swiss banks committing tax fraud as well as how shocked he was when he realized he and Assange comprised the entire organization.
Then comes trouble in the form of the Bradley Manning episode, the biggest leak of classified information ever. While Assange is absolutely insistent that "this is information the world needs to know," Domscheit-Berg worries that people's lives will needlessly be put at risk, and fissures in the friendship start to expand.
While this sounds somewhat schematic, it plays better than that because the two actors bring quite a bit to their roles, and because the script has worked hard to make the issues feel real and relevant.
Less successful, unfortunately, are "The Fifth Estate's" peripheral dramas. Subplots like the understandable irritation Domscheit-Berg's eventual girlfriend Anke feels at Assange's constant presence and a bigger story line about
Whenever "The Fifth Estate" leaves the involving one-on-one drama between Assange and Domscheit-Berg, you wish it wouldn't. That's one truth that doesn't need to be leaked.
'The Fifth Estate'
MPAA rating: R for language and some violence
Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Playing: In general release