The Fifth Estate Blu-ray Review

You remember Julian Assange—the skinny Australian fellow with a head of white hair that would make Andy Warhol embarrassed. More importantly, he’s the founder of WikiLeaks, which offers the public secret information and documents while protecting the identities of their sources.

The Fifth Estate

Early on in the movie, Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch, who has proven himself to be a major personality in film, television and theatre) quotes Oscar Wilde when he says, “Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth.” It’s something Assange both believes strongly and seeks to prove. But it’s partly because of that and his actions that made Assange one of the most controversial figures in the world. His site’s claims to fame include releasing hundreds of thousands of American diplomatic cables, disclosing the Afghan War Diary and publishing e-mails from prominent Syrian figures, in addition to leaking Scientology’s “Operating Thetan” texts, releasing videos of the 2008 Tibetan protests and exposing illegal activities within Swiss banking group Julius Baer. (The website also lists several dozen more bullet points.)

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Fifth Estate

Another key element to the site was Daniel Domscheit-Burg (Daniel Brühl, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for his turn in Ron Howard’s RUSH), a partner who would eventually leave WikiLeaks and write one of the source materials for THE FIFTH ESTATE, “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website.” (The other is David Leigh and Luke Harding’s “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy.”) But, as one might expect (and all promotional materials highlight), it’s really all about Assange. And yet, as many details as THE FIFTH ESTATE (“stylistically” THE 5IFTH ESTATE) includes, it doesn’t end up offering much more than a portrait of an egomaniac who frequents loud bars and goes around speaking in self-promoting blurbs like, “When new information comes out, it can bring about great change” and “Courage is contagious.”

Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl in The Fifth Estate

Director Bill Condon has explored interesting figures before, as he did legendary filmmaker James Whale in 1998’s GODS AND MONSTERS and pioneering sexologist Alfred Kinsey in 2004’s KINSEY (other credits include 2006’s DREAMGIRLS and both installments of THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN), so clearly he had a genuine interest in Assange. Assange certainly must be a fascinating figure, but very little of that is depicted here.

THE FIFTH ESTATE is neither dramatic nor thrilling. It’s the kind of subject matter that is better suited to be explored in a documentary. And since Alex Gibney did just that with WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS (released just months before THE FIFTH ESTATE), the whole thing seems without purpose.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl in The Fifth Estate

Adding to the pointlessness is the fact that the story isn’t even close to done. Assange has been granted diplomatic asylum and is currently living in the Ecuador embassy in London, which is protecting him from arrest. And after that? Whatever it is may be saved for a sequel: THE 6IXTH ESTATE, which, like its predecessor, will feature the sort of premature plot that Lifetime executives would normally scramble to get the rights to.


Video: 2.40:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. This is a very strong video transfer, with deep blacks and detailed textures.

Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital; French 5.1 Dolby Digital; Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish. While the dialogue is clear throughout and the soundtrack quite effective at times, it’s the created atmosphere (notably in club and office scenes) that is the major draw of the transfer.

The Submission Platform: Visual Effects (10:25): Director Bill Condon, production designer Mark Tildesley and more discuss the effects work that went into achieving the look of Assange’s “submission platform.”

In-Camera Graphics (6:25) looks at how the team was challenged to “make text on a screen a little bit more interesting.”

Scoring Secrets (9:11): Composer Carter Burwell (who earned a Golden Globe nomination for his work on WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE) sits down to talk about his contributions to the movie.

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