The Fifth Estate
But because The Social Network's looming shadow hangs heavy over the movie, Condon (whose recent work includes Kinsey, Dreamgirls, and both halves of Twilight: Breaking Dawn) feels compelled to illustrate how Assange's technology works via poorly-animated fantasy sequences.
To wit—the network of servers is represented as a giant open-roof warehouse, filled with desks that are staffed by (alternatingly): figures with blacked-out faces, Assange himself, or Daniel and his comrades in destruction. At one point, the warehouse becomes a vast desolate Mordor-like wasteland for Assange to walk through, as shot from above. While Daniel and Assange are texting each other, the words they're texting are projected onto their face, as well as, once or twice, inexplicably subtitled.
Add to this list a steady stream of jerky camera shots, flashy introductory cards, and weird cinematographic tricks, and you start to see that The Fifth Estate is trying so transparently to be cool and edgy and ambitious (like that Other Film) that it never even comes close to achieving those hopes. All of this is exactly as silly and groan-inducing onscreen as it sounds.
Perhaps the most towering flaw in the movie is Daniel Brühl's performance, which is so inconceivably bad that I almost couldn't believe it during the movie. I'm not sure if he was trying to affect some sort of German stoicism, but it never works—his character expresses anger by talking in a slightly louder pinched, staccato voice; his sad face involves staring off past the camera, eyes dead still, looking vaguely schlubby. There is not a single moment of anything that could come close to being described as "acting" from Brühl at any moment in the film.
This is a huge problem, because, while Assange is arguably the focus of the film, it's all told through the eyes of Daniel-the-everyman, who is also supposed to be the moral pillar of the film. But he's terrible, and unconvincing, and one-dimensional, and annoying. It's really, really weird—acting this profoundly bad rarely makes it into a major commercial film.
It doesn't help that The Fifth Estate's script is similarly bad: moments intended to be profound are telegraphed as such from so far away that their punch is completely minimized. It gets to the point where any time a character pulls Assange aside to talk to him, or confronts him while alone, you know you're in for another Assange Monologue in which he'll discuss his tortured past or tortured motivations or tortured existence—it's all very wooden. And lame.
The only three actors to rise above the script are the exact three you'd expect to do so: Benedict Cumberbatch, and, in a smaller way, Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney. Cumberbatch manages to evoke in Assange a character torn between extremes: anarchism vs. totalitarianism, informational philanthropy vs. self-aggrandizing attention, isolation vs. social immersion, and so on. And he makes all those tensions feel not like disparities, but like expressions of the same broken, confused person. Real-life Julian Assange complains that the movie is unreliable and paints him badly, but he's maybe the only relatable character in the whole movie—not because he's likable, but because he's the only one that feels like a complete human being.