TIFF 2013: The Fifth Estate (2013)


Although it deserved stronger direction and a more structurally sound script. “The Fifth Estate” is lifted above mediocrity thanks to sublime performances from its entire cast and truly captivating, at times unsettling source material. This Bill Condon thriller, despite all the hype and speculation, has fizzled amongst the high-profile Oscar contenders at this years TIFF. Which really shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider the plethora of high-quality films in the race this year. That being said, it is this very unfortunate circumstance that puts “The Fifth Estate” on the receiving end of some seriously negative and potentially irrefutably damaging, undeserved cynical criticism. Thankfully, the essence of film is to forge an opinion of one’s own. Mine is here to tell you not to believe in the bad-mouthing and reputation smashing being directed at “The Fifth Estate.” While definitely not a sure-shot when it comes to award season, it certainly isn’t as abhorrent as critics are making it seem.


To expand, it’s extremely difficult to go into a screening without any preconceived notions. And as hard as you may try to weed out bias and judgement, whether it be positive or negative, inevitably some influence will sink in. This undeniable logic swirled around my mind throughout “The Fifth Estate” as I tussled with my masculine infatuation and deep admiration for the film’s star Benedict Cumberbatch. I tried, valiantly I might add, to focus on the film and details surrounding him and to distance myself from the other interpretations of the film. While I was able to fight off the majority of my weakness, Cumberbatch’s seemingly immaculate prowess and pure devotion, amongst the film’s other infaliable qualities were just too alluring and impressive to ignore. That being said, I succeeded in forging my own opinion. The film isn’t without faults, and it just so happens that Cumberbatch is arguably the only Oscar contender to emerge from this specific film, slim chances for the outstanding Daniel Bruhl. However, we don’t simply condemn films that don’t garner nominations, so by no means avoid this flick.

For those who don’t know. “The Fifth Estate” is the story of how the news-leaking website Wikileaks came to existence. Created by Julian Assange (Cumberbatch) with the help of Daniel Domsheit-Berg (Bruhl).


There are more than a few bright spots throughout the film that don’t revolve around the performances, just to insure my words don’t mislead you. Director Bill Condon occasionally spurts the innovation and brilliance that solidified his high status and previous flicks like “Gods and Monsters,” managing to sporadically encompass the sheer immensity of the film and find the core of its true story. However, Condon consistently struggles to make the transitional aspect of his vision smooth, resulting in a bumpy, divided entity. The film rises and dips far too often to ignore and the highs aren’t nearly impressive enough to discard the lows. I’m sure that the “The Fifth Estate” appeared much more alluring on paper and it’s a pity that the structure and story didn’t translate to the big screen. Regardless, the source material remains as hypnotic, honest, and horrid as ever, toss in some terrific, astonishing performances and “The Fifth Estate” is strong enough to overcome its faults.


Perhaps what ultimately led to the high-standard and unreal expectations of “The Fifth Estate,” aside from the trailer and Cumberbatch’s remarkable portrayal and resemblance to Julian Assange, is the astounding success of David Fincher’s “The Social Network.” The two films share more than a few similarities which can be easily spotted while watching the film. Additionally, the film is no where near as symbolic or deceptive. Everything is laid out, flat on the table. “The Fifth Estate” comes off a bit to modernized and contrived. As if Condon and crew modelled the film after Fincher’s Facebook masterpiece, with good reason. I mean, if you could capture some of “The Social Network’s” Oscar winning astuteness, why wouldn’t you? There’s nothing wrong with being inspired and influenced, but masquerading these mind-sets and commonalities with cheap ploys and abstract techniques didn’t pay off for Condon.


Even though “The Fifth Estate” is stifled mightily by skeletal simplicity and seemingly forced direction. The film’s performances burst forth from the screen and are the only thing standing in the way of this flick from being thrown into an incinerator. The film stars the preposterously immaculate Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, who is absolutely sky-rocketing to stardom, David Thewlis who continues to thrive despite being underused, and a plethora of high-profile supporting talent that features Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, and Anthony Mackie.


Off the top of my head, there is no one who impressed me more than Daniel Bruhl (I’ve simply come to expect perfection from Cumberbatch). After launching his career into orbit with Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds,” it’s been nothing but full-throttle ahead for Bruhl, who has two films premiering at this year’s festival. Bruhl does everything in his power to upstage Cumberbatch and salvage this film from its free-fall. I don’t think I can issue much higher praise than declaring his performance just under that of Cumberbatch’s. Speaking of Benedict, his portrayal of Assange is nothing short of spectacular. His mannerisms, voice, hair, literally everything about Assange is captured perfectly. There’s really nothing else to say. Cumberbatch’s performance alone is enough to make “The Fifth Estate” recommended viewing.


“The Fifth Estate” is fortunate enough to have its spellbinding cast come to the rescue. Other than its performances, which I highly insist you check out, and its source material, there isn’t anything here you haven’t been previously exposed to. This being said, do not take my rough dissection as hatred, I rather enjoyed this flick…even if I am a tad bias.

The FIfth Estate: 7.5 out of 10.

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Aspiring writer who absolutely adores film and television. thecinemamonster.com

Posted on September 12, 2013, in Thriller and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Great review. Very in depth and entertaining. I would like to definitely check this out even though I am not too up to speed on the Wikileaks and Assange story. I know some things but I feel the film will fill me in on the drama. Plus, I really like Cumberbatch and Bruhl. Supporting cast looks amazing, too. Can’t wait to check this one out. Good job! Thanks.

    • Thanks very much Victor! By no means avoid this flick, the performances alone are worth the price of admission. While I don’t really recommend reading too much into Wikileaks’ history before checking this flick out. I do suggest you watch a couple of videos of Julian Assange speaking in person. Just so you can see how truly incredible and spot-on Cumberbatch’s portrayal is :).

  2. I’ve read quite a few reviews on this and it seems that everyone agrees it’d be much worse had the cast not been this stacked. Very soap opera-y. Glad you’re having fun in Toronto, too, Joseph! Keep my jealously raging.

    • I shall keep you infuriated best I can lol. The film itself isn’t bad. But if the performances weren’t as astoundingly strong as they are, it would have been such a flop. Definitely check out this film, the cast is so talented and they completely invest, a real treat.

  3. Great review! Looking forward to this one, especially because of Cumberbatch.

  4. Hey Joseph, great review. The trailer really did have a ‘Social Network’ vibe about it. And I agree, Daniel Bruhl is a fantastic actor. Have you seen ‘We Steal Secrets’? Its the documentary about Wikileaks and its really good. I reviewed it during the summer if you’re interested.

    • Thanks Mikey! I’ll definitely check out your review and hopefully get around to watching the doc. The source material really interests me. Bruhl is on absolute fire right now. I highly recommend you check out this film, if only for Bruhl and the tremendously talented Cumberbatch.

  5. I wasn’t able to catch it at TIFF but I’m glad to hear that it is still an enjoyable film. I mainly wanted to see it cause of Cumberbatch so I’m happy that he shines in it. As always, excellent review Joseph.

  6. So jealous of you going to this festival. The film sounds good, but I’m only interested for Cumberbatch really. The man is freaky looking but sure can act. Nice write up Joseph :)

  7. Definitely gonna watch this! I just know that Benedict would be brilliant in it as he had in all other movies/tvs/radio/theatre he acted in.

  8. I love it when it’s the fanboys who are writing up the reviews because it’s always a treat! Still laughing about the “masculine infatuation” bit. You are not alone, sir, Patrick Adams from Suits, I believe tweeted that he had to wrestle his inner fanboy when he saw Benedict two times in a row. I understand how you feel, it took me multiple viewings of Star Trek before I even begin to comprehend the plot because well, busy being floored by Mr. Benedict. I am just hugely disappointed that the reviews tend to be on the negative side (some are downright nasty) seemed to be worse than it actually is and I’m thinking it’s actually a good film, it just did not rise to the promise we saw on the trailer, with a great cast to boot. But just like Star Trek, Fifth Estate may have garnered mixed reviews but it’s unified in praise of Benedict. Please tell us what you think after watching 12 Years a Slave and August Osage.

    One question though, how’s the Assange weird disco dancing? I suggest you also check the real assange dancing on youtube too if you have not seen it. Bill Condon said it was one scene that has absolutely need to be shown in the film and that Benedict nailed it too. Not a shocker really but its one bit im looking forward to seeing. Also cant wait to see the singing and piano playing in August Osage!

    • Happy to hear I could provide you with a chuckle, :). The film definitely isn’t as bad as critics are making it appear. Still, would have been nice for the film to live up to its trailer. Cumberbatch is incredible as always. I will be sure to let you all know about 12 Years a Slave when I see it tomorrow. As for August: Osage County, it really is marvel. It’s really growing on me, lots of Oscar caliber performances.

      The dancing sequence was used for comic relief. It’s really accurate and Cumberbatch nails it. The singing and piano scene in August: Osage County is heartbreaking, just terrific.

  9. Looking forward to this because of Cumberbatch!

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