The Fifth Estate, opening this weekend, is getting plenty of online buzz, particularly for its star, Benedict Cumberbatch. Yet it faces a simple, but profound challenge:
How do you make a movie about the Internet enthralling?
Cumberbatch plays Julian Assange, whose sites set out to expose governments who commit what he feels are crimes under the banner of national security.
Like its subject, however, and not unlike WikiLeaks itself, the broader goals and the context in which they're viewed are at times murky for this exposition.
Let's take a look at what the critics are saying (and for a look at another big weekend release, here are 12 Years a Slave reviews) about The Fifth Estate ...
"It's probably too early to make a movie about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and The Fifth Estate reflects this. Based on a book by Daniel Berg, who was an Assange associate, the movie can't quite decide what it thinks of him - or even if it should decide at all." - San Francisco Chronicle
"Assange and his massive influence on our transparency-obsessed times certainly provide more than enough material for an enthralling movie. Fortunately, documentarian Alex Gibney has already made it. It’s called We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks." - N.Y. Daily News
"The movie is partially saved by its uniformly excellent and watchable performances. Mr. Berg and Mr. Cumberbatch give Mr. Singer’s clunky dialogue occasional bursts of electricity, and David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and Alicia Vikander all do solid work in exposition-heavy supporting roles. But their strong work doesn’t make this ill-conceived data dump of a movie worth watching." - Washington Times
"The film that The Fifth Estate most resembles is The Social Network. The parallels are clear: a social outcast exorcising demons via technology; the vicious betrayal of a business partner; the swift transformation of news into drama. But The Fifth Estate doesn't have the same sharp focus or insight." - TimeOut London
"Both the kindest and most damning thing you can say about The Fifth Estate is that it primarily hobbles itself by trying to cram in more context-needy material than any single drama should have to bear." - Variety
"The Fifth Estate, Bill Condon's feverishly edgy and exciting drama about the events surrounding WikiLeaks and its infamous founder, the renegade Australian journalist-anarchist Julian Assange, is one of the only movies…that really gets, in the rollicking density of its storytelling DNA, how the Internet has changed everything." - EW
"Bill Condon's first post-Twilight film offers a compelling, complex portrait of the Wikileaks founder, and yet it will probably do precisely what the actual Assange fears – namely, paint him as a demagogue whose commitment to institutional corruption is more self-aggrandizing than sincere." - The Wrap