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HindustanTimes Mon,14 Jul 2014

Movie review: Benedict Cumberbatch narrowly saves The Fifth Estate

Durga M Sengupta, Hindustantimes.com  New Delhi, October 25, 2013
First Published: 13:56 IST(25/10/2013) | Last Updated: 14:48 IST(25/10/2013)

A biopic on Julian Assange, Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate stars Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame as the editor-in-chief and founder of WikiLeaks. Critics have given mixed reviews.

"The material covered in the production's 128 minutes is not only inherently non-cinematic but not remotely "thrilling," at least in the conventional sense," writes a bored James Berardinelli in Reelviews.com.

"For a movie about a larger-than-life personality who shook up the world with his brazenness—and since has had to seek political asylum because of it— The Fifth Estate feels unfortunately small and safe," notes Christy Lemire on her website.

"The Fifth Estate seems more interested in contributing to a cult of personality, rather than cultivating a serious debate," she adds.

Anthony Lane finds it unoriginal. "Bill Condon’s movie, which badly wants—and fails—to ape the suave approach of The Social Network, streams with data and leaps from one city to the next, as the Times and other newspapers follow the lead of WikiLeaks. Whether you view Assange as a freedom fighter or as a sinister paranoiac is beside the point; however balanced the script, and for all the dexterity of Cumberbatch, the look of the film is entirely under his spell, and the result is as nervy and as excitable as the trade that it depicts," writes Lane in The New Yorker.

However, Cumberbatch seems to have won a few hearts.

"The Fifth Estate contains some worthwhile material, most of which is related to Benedict Cumberbatch's mesmerizing, multi-faceted performance. Since exploding on the scene in the BBC-TV series Sherlock, Cumberbatch has become typecast as an intellectually cold, emotionally stunted, off-kilter individual. His skill is in evidence here; his interpretation of Julian Assange is that of a man who is many things at one time: mad prophet, sincere visionary, egomaniac, charismatic guru, narcissist," writes James Berardinelli despite not having liked the film much.

"Benedict Cumberbatch brings tightly wound — but also wounded — energy to his portrayal of the white-haired Australian, who as a boy had been part of a New Age cult known as the 'The Family'," writes Lisa Kennedy in The Denver Post.

"Condon directs with a strong sense that tensions between personal torment and mission, governmental secrecy and transparency, citizen journalism and old-guard media are worth investigating, even if they are not easily resolved," she adds.


David Edelstein thinks The Fifth Estate is worth a watch.

"The first half of The Fifth Estate is entertaining. Although Assange has been likened to Mick Jagger, Cumberbatch sensibly resists the opportunity to climb the walls," he writes in Vulture.com.

"The lesson of this is that there’s no easy way to dramatize the story of Julian Assange and that trying to turn it into a conventional melodrama is not just politically irresponsible but dull-witted," he adds grudgingly.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an abysmal 38% rating on the tomatometer with the comment, "Heavy on detail and melodrama but missing the spark from its remarkable real-life inspiration, The Fifth Estate mostly serves as a middling showcase for Benedict Cumberbatch's remarkable talent."

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