After a detour into the world of Twilight movies, director Bill Condon has returned to serious movies with The Fifth Estate. In a lot of ways, by telling the story of Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), his relationship with friend Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl) and WikiLeaks, all the while digging into all kinds of high-minded moral and political issues, you can’t get much more serious than The Fifth Estate. Thankfully, Condon approaches the movie like a thriller, so we’re never bogged down by stodgy self-importance. However, this also poses a problem for The Fifth Estate, since Condon’s strong suit isn’t thrills and urgency. What’s left is a film that feels like it’s trying to fit in with some idea of what a modern globetrotting thriller should look like and made by a filmmaker who has lost his own stylistic identity in the bargain. The film’s shot with the kind of shaky-cam faux-urgency that only a lack of tripod can supply, diving into a world of computer hacking revolutionaries. When The Fifth Estate is using its brain, it works well and has surprising depth. Condon and TV writer Josh Singer have made a movie that neither honors nor vilifies Assange (played more as an impression and less a character by Cumberbatch, but nonetheless solidly), whose ideals of social justice, transparency, and truth in a digital age are held to high standards. But at the same time, there’s his close friend and WikiLeaks partner — not to mention the film’s conscience — Daniel, who sees Assange’s ego and vanity firsthand, and questions the dangers an uncensored truth may create. This moral complexity is really what makes the film. This perhaps personifies The Fifth Estate — it does a lot right, but nothing spectacularly so, often faltering thanks to a director who’s lost his luster.
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