TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: ‘The Fifth Estate’ Stumbles with Audiences

Benedict Cumberbatch garners raves for his performance as Julian Assange…

thefifthestateFor the past few months I’ve said, “I’m pretty WikiLeaked out.”

Earlier this year, Focus Features released the intelligent, although a bit sloppy, recount of the WikiLeaks phenomenon in We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.  We’ve seen this real story unfold for years now in the media via CNN and the Today Show.  Julian Assange is a character of our late night television shows played by Bill Hader on “Saturday Night Live” and now he will be portrayed with sincerity by Benedict Cumberbatch in Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate.

Announced as the opening film of the Toronto Film Festival, Dreamworks hoped for a big springboard for Condon and the film to have going into awards season.  The early word seems mixed to say the least.  While many have  problems with the narrative structure it seems, the newly appointed BAFTA LA British Artist of the Year star Benedict Cumberbatch is getting high marks as the politically infused Assange.

What do I get from the early word?  Box office will likely be decent and if anything, the praise for Cumberbatch will help him along through the season for his role in August: Osage County, also playing at Toronto.  With not so much praise for Daniel Bruhl, he’ll rely on the power of his work in Ron Howard’s Rush which has screened in many markets and has a large following from what I’ve heard.  The film however, may be virtually ignored.  There’s too many quibbles about Josh Singer’s script, a place where I thought the film could grab some attention and not enough about other actors in the film like Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci.

Read the reactions below along with photos from the premiere:

John Anderson of Thompson on Hollywood faults Condon:

Less impressive is director Condon’s efforts in making the virtual dramatic. A lot of what WikiLeaks accomplished in its revelations of Swiss banking scandals, Kenyan political corruption, Icelandic banking shenanigans and the atrocities committed by U.S. helicopter pilots in Baghdad was about data, numbers, coding and encryption. There’s a lot of computerized anxiety generated in the early sequences of the film, but screens filled with glowing green characters are not the same as skies filled with flying monkeys. It’s a cautionary movie politically, but also cinematically: The more our lives are lived online, the more directors are going to have to wrestle with making the inherently undramatic engaging.

Dennis Harvey of Variety says:

Ripped from headlines that still feel wet (even if its subjects might feel that phrasing gives print media too much credit), “The Fifth Estate” dramatizes the fast, controversial rise of anonymous-whistleblower website WikiLeaks and its figurehead, Julian Assange. Aiming to provide the kind of speculative personality portrait behind another sweeping digital-age change in communication that touches nearly everyone, a la “The Social Network,” helmer Bill Condon and scenarist Josh Singer’s film must also stuff in a heavy load of global events, all in a hyperkinetic style aping today’s speed of information dispersal. Results can’t help but stimulate, but they’re also cluttered and overly frenetic, resulting in a narrative less informative, cogent and even emotionally engaging than Alex Gibney’s recent docu “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.” Initial interest should be high, though likely mixed critical and word of mouth response may dampen B.O. staying power.

Catherine Shoard of The Guardian praises Cumberbatch:

As for Cumberbatch, he’s both the asset and the slight undoing; so magnetic as to render hopes of a two-hander redundant. It’s a virtuoso impersonation, from the deep drawl to louche geek twitches. Suited, he could pass for Nick Cave after a night or two in the fridge. Mostly, though, this Assange is as extraterrestrial as Cumberbatch’s Khan in last year’s Star Trek, a lip-smacking vampire typing through the night. From a distance, he looks like a lizardy angel, courageously saving the world; close up he squints and snuffles like a bleached, greasy mouse.

John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter says Benedict is the best thing:

The most compelling thing here by far is the film’s vision of Assange, by all accounts a man of enormous self-regard and slippery ethics. Benedict Cumberbatch has the character in hand from the start — his way of brushing into another’s space and making it his office, of not seeing others unless they’re reflecting back some of the energy he emits, of elevating himself by making others’ concerns sound trivial. The actor brings extra ambiguity to scenes in which Assange is ostensibly opening up to people; only once (when activist associates in Kenya are killed) do his emotions seem untainted by manipulative play-acting.



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Genre: Drama/Thriller

Rating: R

U.S. Release date: October 18, 2013

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Carice van Houten, Dan Stevens, with Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney

Director: Bill Condon

Producers: Steve Golin, Michael Sugar

Executive Producers: Richard Sharkey, Paul Green, Jeff Skoll, Jonathan King

Screenplay by:              Josh Singer

Based on the books: “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website” by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and the Guardian book “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by David Leigh and Luke Harding


Triggering our age of high-stakes secrecy, explosive news leaks and the trafficking of classified information, WikiLeaks forever changed the game. Now, in a dramatic thriller based on real events, “The Fifth Estate” reveals the quest to expose the deceptions and corruptions of power that turned an Internet upstart into the 21st century’s most fiercely debated organization. The story begins as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) team up to become underground watchdogs of the privileged and powerful. On a shoestring, they create a platform that allows whistleblowers to anonymously leak covert data, shining a light on the dark recesses of government secrets and corporate crimes. Soon, they are breaking more hard news than the world’s most legendary media organizations combined. But when Assange and Berg gain access to the biggest trove of confidential intelligence documents in U.S. history, they battle each other and a defining question of our time: what are the costs of keeping secrets in a free society—and what are the costs of exposing them?”


What do you think?

72 points
Film Lover

Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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