‘The Fifth Estate’ review: Benedict Cumberbatch as a narcissistic genius? SOLD.


*****SPOILERS for The Fifth Estate

You guys know how much I had been reading about The Fifth Estate, so it’s no surprise that I went into the film with low expectations. The reviews haven’t been great overall. Most critics think the film is deeply flawed, and the story barely a fraction of what really happened. But critics also seem to think that Benedict Cumberbatch is the best part of the flawed film. And… I tend to agree.

The film “pops” when Cumberbatch is on screen, and not so much when the film is all about Daniel Domscheit Berg, played by Daniel Bruhl. It’s not that Bruhl is an uninteresting character – it’s that the film is trying too hard to make Daniel into the cypher through which we (the audience) can view Julian Assange’s work, motives and hypocrisies. Plus, Daniel Domscheit Berg simply isn’t as interesting as the brilliant insanity, the amoral genius that is Julian Assange. You spend five minutes with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Assange and you stop caring about Daniel and his girlfriend’s relationship problems. The film also spends too much time trying to make the story into a “thriller” when I’m quite sure the real story would have been compelling enough, especially if they had spent more time on Bradley Manning and the war logs and the diplomatic cables. Unfortunately, that part of the story is sort of shoved in towards the end and there are some big leaps in storytelling.

As for the portrait of Assange, someone who evokes such strong feelings, both pro and con, after seeing the film I can understand why Assange has been blasting it right and left. I think his PR strategy has been wrong, and it’s not that the film is some kind of anti-Assange propaganda, it’s just that anyone with a casual understanding of the real story knows that this screenplay does everyone a disservice (except for maybe The Guardian, they came out looking pretty good). Cumberbatch’s Assange is a brilliant, paranoid, self-absorbed, nihilistic, charismatic, self-aggrandizing narcissist. I would argue that the real Assange is all of those things too and that Cumberbatch gives the portrait some kind of nuance, some margin of error where you truly see Assange’s argument.

Other thoughts… the “special effects” just looked budget. It was like director Bill Condon pulled out every film cliché of “hackers” and “intense, time-sensitive computer work” and used them all, no matter how dated or budget. The set design was often distressingly and distractingly budget at times too – like, there was a set in Germany that got reused several times and it just looked like a terrible cliché 1990s party. But! They filmed in real locations several times (in Belgium, Iceland, Berlin, etc), and those scenes looked great.

Would I recommend this film? Eh. I will recommend it to Cumberbitches and Assange-loonies, just because I think Cumberbatch elevates and improves on the sophomoric material he’s given. For everyone else… don’t see in the theaters, but it’s probably a decent rental.

PS… Also, and this is just on a Cumberbitch Level: Benedict is so incredibly beautiful in close-up. The Assange wiglet is gross, of course, and the eyebrows were distracting, but Benedict’s FACE is incredible. There are lots of close-ups too.






Photos courtesy of Time, The Fifth Estate.

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66 Responses to “‘The Fifth Estate’ review: Benedict Cumberbatch as a narcissistic genius? SOLD.”

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  1. Sixer says:

    Sigh. I’m going to wait until it appears on Sky, I think. I’ve no objection to a film that takes a side (any side) on Assange, but I would like it to be good. It all sounds very high school – that’s what you mean by sophomoric, right?

    • Andrew says:

      I’m waiting for redbox. This movie TOTALLY flopped this weekend. Why isn’t celebitchy commenting on that? It had a whole topic devoted to how ‘rush’ supposedly flopped when this is flopping so much harder. And rush was an EXCELLENT movie while this is (supposedly, haven’t seen it) just meh.. Just shows how obsessed CB is with Benedict Cumberbun. I mean it barely made over 1 million when it was projected to make at least 10.

      • Sixer says:

        To be fair, this is probably another film whose gross will be 70% international – like Rush. I do agree our glorious Celebitchy leaders were precipitous in calling Rush a flop.

      • Andrew says:

        Fair enough. I guess I’m just over the cumberbatch obsession lo

      • Katie says:

        I think because everyone knew it was going to be one here? Disinteresting subject + blah at TIFF + actor not really well known in the US.

        Cumberbatch is the best thing in it I keep hearing, so he did his job at least.

        DWorks just said half of the total TFE budget was covered already in just in foreign presales, so it’s not a 20+ million loss for them and may actually make a profit eventually.

        Rush had a bigger budget than TFE but made over it in foreign sales.

      • ag-UK says:

        The first weekend here in the UK it only made £800k and I would imagine it will be gone in a couple of weeks OR will be doomed to the 920p only time slot. He did try to sell it but hard to sell what people don’t want.

    • Funtimes18 says:

      I wonder if they’re going to report on Celebitchy what a HUGE flop this movie is??? $4 million worldwide! Less than $1,000 PER THEATER average! 1,700 theaters!

      • Oops says:

        In theater in France on december 4th, I wonder if it’s also going to flop or not.

      • Colio says:

        I read CB and did not know why there were daily posts about Benedict Cumberbatch. So, I went to see the movie. I thought it was less than so so. I also think it would have been better with a strong lead like Damon or Affleck.

  2. GeeMoney says:

    I love Cumberbatch, but I’m not really interested in seeing the film. I’ll wait for the DVD.

    Meanwhile, I’m off to see him in 12 Years a Slave today… I hope he’s good in it.

    • Ag-UK says:

      It is very good but tough to watch.

      • GeeMoney says:

        Just watched it. It was a good movie, but yes, it was difficult to see some of those scenes.

        Chiwetel definitely deserves some accolades for this movie… and so does Lupita. She’s so cute!

      • Roberta says:

        I also saw it, on Friday. Absolutely bloody amazing. All the cast were brilliant – Chiwetel in particular. The thing is though he’s pretty much in every scene and is carrying the film. Fassbender is playing an absolute sadistic and brutal alcoholic.

        I don’t know if it’s because he’s only in about 20 minutes, but when Cumberbatch comes on, he pretty much stole all the scenes he was in IMO. He’s playing a plantation owner but a sympathetic character. As soon as he left, I wanted him to come back again, he was so good.

    • ag-UK says:

      Chewetel SHOULD win the Oscar..

  3. Abby says:

    I did not see this this weekend, but I did see 12 Years a Slave. BC was wonderful in that, as we’re all the other actors. Chewitel is AMAZING. He needs to win an Oscar for this.

    After everything I read about the movie, I thought I would be spending 2 hours hiding my eyes and crying. While I did flinch, close my eyes, and tear up at points, I didn’t think it was a “hard” as the Internet made it out to be, mainly because it was a very very well done film. I felt a lot of heartache for Solomon and a lot of disgust as the situation throughout the movie, but it was also oddly captivating (that seems like the wrong word, but it’s the best I can come up with- nobody in my packed theater left and I couldn’t imagine leaving before the end I was totally invested in his story).

    I know this isn’t a thread about 12YAS, but seriously BC fans, this is the movie of his you should see when it comes out near you.

  4. loveisthecoal says:

    I saw this yesterday and I didn’t think it was nearly as bad as most reviews made it out to be. Certainly it’s not without flaws…for one thing, despite trying to cram too much information into two hours, it somehow also drags in places. It’s a bit hard to follow…the person I went with said at one point that she had to pee, but she was afraid if she left for a minute she’d have no idea what was going on :D But Benedict is creepily spot-on as Assange and his acting is incredible of course. I also enjoyed Daniel Brühl’s part but I adore him, so I may be a bit biased there!

    Sorry for the novel…that was a bit longer than I intended!

  5. Kiddo says:

    Just as an FYI, my aunt gets Time magazine and that is not the cover photo, although he is inside with that image.

    From reading a few reviews, I believe the portrait of Assange and Wikileaks is too negatively stilted in this film, that I won’t bother to see this, but there are other movies he is in that I would like to see.

    • lenje says:

      That’s the cover in everywhere else BUT the US region. So most probably your aaunt got the American edition.

  6. Buckwild says:

    I saw this at TIFF and was left disappointed. It dragged on and on and there was no interesting character in sight – the most charismatic person was Prof Lupin at the Guardian. Seriously. This is not going to be Cumberbatch’s big oscar movie.

  7. Abby says:

    Well glad you liked it. I am yet to see it myself. Probably will check it next week…as weather in Canada has got to me and I am sick.

    P.S I didn’t realize there’s another Abby here

  8. moon says:

    Movie bombed in the states, Hollywood Reporter called it D.O.A (dead on arrival)

    • Abby says:

      It was expected. Many Americans are not interested in Assange and those who are will NOT watch it because he doesn’t approve of this movie.

      Replace Cumby say with Tom Cruise and I guarantee you that it would have only made a little more money than what it actually did. This topic is just hard to sell especially with two leads who are still relatively unknown to the American audience.

      Only money that it remotely made is only because of the Cumberbatch fans. I wouldn’t watch the movie either if it wasn’t for Cumby.

      • T.C. says:

        It would have made more money if someone like George Clooney or Matt Damon was fronting it. Cumbatch is not that famous to sell a movie no one is interested in.

      • Andrew says:

        I doubt it would have Madeira more money with those guys fronting it…the fact is that the movie is supposedly just meh, and the audience it’s aimed toward would probably much rather see Captain Phillips or Gravity because of their good reviews.

      • MavenTheFirst says:

        The whistleblower isn’t an American. I imagine that makes a difference. Or perhaps the masses don’ t care for stories about whistleblowers.

      • LadySlippers says:

        I agree w/ Abby. This is a hard sell for a lot of Americans. You have to have a superb everything and make us want to care, in order to succeed in our market. And other than a superb actor, it failed on other accounts. Having another lead actor really would have not helped much…..

        Sad but true.

        I’ll wait (I think) until it’s in DVD to see this. 12YAS I’ll see in theatres.

    • IrishEyes says:

      I went on Friday and was one of maybe 10 in the theater? I did go to a matinee, but it was interesting. I was also one of the youngest in the theater (in my late 20′s).

      • Abby says:

        @T.C well obviously…they have been in the business for good 20 years. BC is just starting…this is his breakout year…like Fassy & Chastain’s in 2011. Come to 2013 and Fassy is getting solo leads which will do descent at BO.

        Similarly give BC couple of years as well. Honestly people who don’t sit on Internet still have no clue about who is BC. He needs more ground level exposure.

        Also bad reviews always hurt. All the bad reviews (mostly hating the direction and writing) effected the chances of having bigger audience. My parents still read reviews before spending their money on any movie.

        I would have been worried as a BC fan if he didn’t perform but as I have read everywhere…he did his best from what was given. So he isn’t losing much here.

        Anyone who will get most of the flak is Dreamworks for not investing in a better marketing and Bill Codon for not doing justice to the talented actors he had.

  9. islandwalker says:

    I think he is is a very talented actor who will have a long steady career but I will never, ever understand all the talk about him being hot and beautiful. I think he’s very weak and odd looking but still enjoy him as a character actor because he does disappear into each role.

    • Anon33 says:

      ITA. I do not get whatever hotness other people in see in him. At all.

    • mom2two says:

      I do not find him hot at all. I think his career success will be as a character actor and not a leading man (except in TV). He is a good actor. This film’s failure isn’t on him, though. The film had “meh” reviews and I don’t think many in US were interested in the subject matter.

  10. HotPockets says:

    He looks ridiculous with the hair! I know he is trying to portray Julian Assange, but it looks more budget than Naomi as Diana.

    I can’t stand this man or Tom Hiddlestone. I demand less of them…just saying.

    • Andrew says:


    • fingerbinger says:

      Agreed. Hiddleston and Cumberbatch posts errday is a little much.

      • Argirl says:

        Thank you.

      • Delorb says:

        You don’t have to read them. Just sayin. Me, I skip everything Hiddleston related. EVERYTHING.

      • HotPockets says:

        Delorb- I just don’t understand the fascination or why both their average mugs have to be posted all the time, so I click on the article to see why they are posted and realize there is no fancy reason every time.

        I could just skip the article and most of the time I do, but why the obsession?

    • Delorb says:

      HotPocket, if you don’t get it, then I can’t explain it to you. Coming here and reading post after post about the man won’t do it either. Watch one of his movies and if that doesn’t work, then he’s just not your cup of tea. Meh. It happens to the best of us.

      BTW, I realized I told a lie. I did click on a Hiddleston thread. So I guess I lack restraint as well.

  11. IrishEyes says:

    I saw it on Friday. I found a lot of it very interesting. The Guardian did come off pretty rosy in the movie, and I loathed Daniel. I thought Cumberbatch was fantastic, and the accent was great. Overall, I can say a lot of people won’t like this film. I appreciated it because of my profession, and I went with other journalists, so it was cool to get their perspective. I enjoyed the real news footage. I totally agree though, not a lot of people are going to like it. It came off in parts very “indie” if that makes sense. I liked it a lot and I thought it would be a good “overview” for someone that hadn’t followed the news concerning Wikileaks and Assange.

  12. Kassis says:

    Julian Assange is actually better looking than Benedict Cumberbatch.

  13. F5 says:

    These pics are hysterical.

  14. Felice says:

    The film was fine. Not bad or super good, just fine. I just find it funny that the trailer makes it seem like Julian gets some in the movie but he doesn’t. Baiting the Cumberbunnies :p….

  15. Linda L says:

    Saw it yesterday. Was very impressed with Benedict’s performance. Reminded me why I like to watch him act.
    The director didn’t impress me, but the performances did.
    This was going to tank in the US from the beginning. The subject matter alone is not something many people want to see. Assange is a very polarizing figure. The movie itself seemed almost like an indie picture. Of course, anything that Hollywood rewrites, remakes, or touches is going to be ruined, for the most part. You are not seeing the whole picture- you never will.
    However, Benedict shines in this- even as Julian Assange, with that wig and no visible eyebrows. I don’t see an Oscar for this- but he was fantastic.

    • LadySlippers says:


      See my comment above.

    • Chrissy says:

      Agree entirely. BF + I saw it Sunday. I place a lot of blame on the direction using visual metaphors that were clunky and the overall flow being confusing. I feel it is well worth seeing, either in a theater or later, for the performances.

  16. Joanie says:

    Saw this on Friday night with a friend, and we agreed that the performances were great, Cumberbatch was amazing, and it’s a really intriguing film. I read many of the negative reviews but couldn’t agree with them, beyond the CGI being clunky and the film needing more Assange, less Berg. I feel like there was always going to be a great deal of negativity towards the film, because it’s a divisive subject about a divisive person, whose story is still being told.

  17. Sloane Wyatt says:

    I completely disagree with this post’s portrayal of a true hero; the “brilliant insanity, the amoral genius that is Julian Assange.” This feels more like a continuation of the same old mudslinging of Mr. Assange and a less than subtle questioning of the man’s moral character. No serious effort is made to highlight the enormous resources the U.S. security state has been marshaling to shape public opinion, most notably through the media.

    “it’s not that the film is some kind of anti-Assange propaganda”, uh, yeah, it most certainly is. This movie could have been great and actually informative if it had approached the subject-matter more honestly and fairly. Instead, we get misleading misrepresentations of the whistleblower’s moral failings, drawing the obvious inference that his personal defects are not only in Assange’s public work, but in his private life too.

    “Cumberbatch gives the portrait some kind of nuance,” – that’s because Cumby is striving to show the heroism and humanity of the real Julian Assange, a whistleblower who’s defiance of the United States corporate-military behemoth is on par with Benazir Bhutto laying down her life in the fight against tyranny.

    This documentary could have bravely depicted the moral quandaries and grey areas faced by whistleblowers in the age of the surveillance super-state. Instead, we get just another movie taking the easy course of siding with the problem rather than the solution.

    • Chrissy says:

      Please note that this film is NOT a documentary. As a work of fiction drawn from only one side, it is interesting.

  18. Alli says:

    Yeah, the plot left a lot to be desired. Cumberbatch was creepy and brilliant and intriguing and great. There were 12 people in the theater for a 10:15pm showing, and my friend and I were the only girls!

    Also, Cumberbatch as Julian Assange complaining about the movie at the end of the movie was the best part.

  19. Beth says:

    It wasn’t showing anywhere near where I live in rural Georgia, or else I would have seen it. I knew it wasn’t gone be a blockbuster, it’s too intellectual for that, but I’m still bummed for Benedict. I really like his work.

  20. Maureen says:

    I think his choice to do TFE was a mistake. I think time will bear this out and one day — whether a year, 5 years, 10 years, or 25 years from now — when asked about his career he’ll say TFE was his one regret/mistake. I believe he was determined to play a key global figure and allowed this “desperation” to cloud his judgment. I believe he has excellent judgment on jobs and would not take garbage just to work. That’s why I believe he had a lapse in judgment with TFE. How else can it be explained why he tried to defend Assange and why he tried to talk Condon down off the ledge and why he tried to defend the script over and over …. all the while KNOWING that the script had glaring falsities and even outright lies. The thing about the white hair/cult is the red flag for me. Everything hinges on that. How can you trust a movie that lies about something so simple, so insignificant, so EASY to fact-check?

    Better luck next time to BC. This is a major bomb and quite an embarrassment of a movie and Bill Condon really is the one who should be embarrassed. Thank God Benedict has all those other good projects happening at the same time so it’s pretty easy for everyone to ignore TFE. It’ll disappear soon and no one will think anymore of it.

    I am going to see it in the theatre this week though. I don’t even care about Wikileaks and their story, but I don’t get to see Benedict on the big screen that often. He’s a terrific actor and I don’t want to miss the chance to see him on the big screen.

    • LadySlippers says:

      I think he has made a few errors already (not many). And it’s been the crappy writing/bad directing type film that’s seems to be a weakness.

      Oh well. No one’s perfect. Lol

      • Beth says:

        “Wreckers” was an odd movie. I can’t really think of any of his other projects that were bad choices, though. What specifically do you mean?

    • Delorb says:

      There were other actors in this movie. Good actors and they read the same script that Benedict read. And guess what? They all liked it enough to sign on the bottom line. Evidently whatever was on the page was good enough. Not their fault that the execution was bad.

    • Chrissy says:

      I don’t think it was a mistake for him to make TFE. He is brilliant in the role, and it was a chance to play a lead. He also got quite a lot of PR for it. TFE is not a bad movie, even though it did not make much money. The pros (playing a fascinating character, increased PR, playing a lead) outweigh the bad direction and clumsiness of the film.

  21. Green is Good says:

    See this movie STAT! Cumby is scary awesome. I smell an Oscar nom.

    • ag-UK says:

      Hopefully but he will need to squeeze in with, 12YAS (Chewetal), The Butler (Whittaker) , Fruitvale (MB Jordan), Dallas Buyers Club (McConneghy), Captain Philips (Hanks yes him again) …as I imagine they will all get nominations

  22. Apples says:

    I can not stand Bill Condon’s direction. He can ruin movies for me.

  23. Green is Good says:

    Additional: agree with other posters: when the film focused on Assange it was good. When it focused on Berg, eh . Slowed the movie to a halt.

  24. coe says:

    This movie was ok, but some of the filming seemed so budget that I was laughing out loud in the theatre. Was I afraid anyone would shoosh me? No, because on Friday night at a 940pm showing there were exactly 5 people in the entire screening. And I live in a large city.

  25. Sucka says:

    Wow, this website has gotten painfully boring. Done!