DO YOU FIND IT EASIER TO UNDERSTAND discussions of internet technology when German techno music is playing? Do complex metaphors make you uncomfortable? Has your memory of 2010 already started to go a little fuzzy? Final question: Are you interested in a historical montage about the printing press?
The Fifth Estate describes the history of WikiLeaks, from the moment Daniel Schmitt teamed up with Julian Assange to the moment three of the world's most influential newspapers jointly released the WikiLeaks war logs.
Though Assange is brilliantly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the film offers no insights into Assange's character or motivations. Instead, it's told almost entirely from the point of view of chipmunky, uncharismatic Daniel (Daniel Brühl), né Daniel Domscheit-Berg, WikiLeaks' former spokesperson, on whose memoir the film is in part based.
The Fifth Estate does a decent job evoking a sense of urgency around the world events WikiLeaks revealed (in case you literally don't remember three years ago) and there are some great, fun West Wing-esque scenes of American politicos responding to Assange's leaks. But the film tells us nothing about Assange that we haven't been told a thousand times already, and there's something distancing and strange about consigning him to the waxworks of historical fiction already. Moreover, The Fifth Estate elevates Daniel's role as the organization's moral compass, while glossing over any substantive discussion of whether or not it was, in fact, moral to release unredacted versions of the WikiLeaks cables.
The Fifth Estate is a profoundly silly movie about a profoundly serious topic. It's too concerned about facts to be fun, too one-sided and dogmatic to be informative, and too just plain hacky to get away with any of it. I hope smarter people are at work on a better film—and I hope they convince Cumberbatch to reprise his role as Assange, because it's the only thing worth plundering from The Fifth Estate's scrap heap.