Stop the presses!
The early word on The Fifth Estate is out and Bill Condon's thriller about the rise of WikiLeaks with Benedict Cumberbatch as the whistleblower website's mastermind Julian Assange has sparked comparisons to The Social Network—though, depending on whom you ask, they're not entirely pleasing ones.
E! News runs down what the critics are saying—and debating—about the movie, which hits theaters on Friday, Oct. 18.
• "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," writes TimeOut London.
Still, the paper gave it three stars, heaping particular praise on its star: "It's adequate and often fun, but no match for Cumberbatch's talents: physically, his Assange is far more complex and intriguing than most of the things we hear him say or see him do."
• While complimenting Cumberbatch for bringing "extra ambiguity" to his scenes as the controversial hacker turned journalist, The Hollywood Reporter also made The Social Network analogy.
"The comparison isn't flattering to Estate which, though it traffics in life and death and threats to the world's great institutions, isn't always as gripping as a film whose main drama was who would get rich over letting 'friends' share party pictures," wrote the trade. "Though it will attract attention at the box office, it is unlikely to appeal broadly to moviegoers who, one suspects, have never been as worked up about WikiLeaks as journalists and governments are."
•The New York Times makes the Social Network comparison yet again, but ends their review of the flick seeming a little underwhelmed by the movie.
"The Fifth Estate, careful not to make Assange either too pure a hero or too grotesque a monster, turns him, in spite of Mr. Cumberbatch's enigmatic grace, into a bit of a bore," the newspaper decrees.
• On the other hand, Entertainment Weekly hailed it as "the anti-Social Network"—but in a good way.
"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," raved the magazine. "In form, it's a vintage journalism thriller…[that] captures the tenor of whistleblowing in the brave new world, when the Internet gets turned into a billboard for anyone with the inclination to spill secrets."
•"The Fifth Estate, Bill Condon's biopic about Julian Assange, centers on one of the most fascinating characters of the 21st century. And what a letdown it is to see this spellbinding, era-defining story tamed into such stodgy submission," wrote the New York Daily News' Elizabeth Weitzman, later adding, "Thehe movie repeatedly disregards its first-rate supporting cast. And why do we waste time on empty scenes of symbolism, or Daniel [Brühl]'s dull romance, when we barely even hear about Private Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, Assange's most important source?"
• "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," offered a less enthusiastic Variety. "Cumberbatch captures Assange's slightly otherworldly air, as well as numerous creepier qualities...Still, it too feels like a somewhat one-dimensional turn, hemmed in by an overall sensibility that just can't stop to probe deeper."
• "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," opined The Wrap, which also labeled it a "first-rate docudrama."
• The Village Voice, however, glibly knocked the flick's fast-paced techno-thriller vibe and "senseless cuts" that fail to give moviegoers "a good look" at Assange.
"It all hews so closely to template that it's easy to imagine that paperclip from Microsoft Word popping up on Condon's desktop one day to say, 'It looks like you're directing a techno-thriller. Would you like help?'" panned the paper.
•The Washington Post echoed most outlets in complementing Cumberbatch's acting chop in the flick, but held those behind the camera responsible for the film's shortcomings. "At its best, the film works as a serious showcase for its capable star, the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who delivers an eerily on-point portrayal of the enigmatic central character...But as a piece of filmed entertainment, The Fifth Estate shows why things like authorial point of view and visual sensibility are so essential in bringing such stories to life."