Films about coders and hackers are notoriously hard to pull off. I mean, what’s more boring than watching someone type—even with great purpose—onto their computer screen?
The best example of overcoming that challenge was the dazzling The Social Network (still my favorite film of the last 10 years), about Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. It’s useful to compare that film to this one, about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Both Assange and Zuckerberg are brilliant and enigmatic guys. Both have an intimidating intellect and anti-social qualities. In both cases, their ascension to fame (or in Assange’s case, infamy) was aided by the diligent help of a loyal sidekick and friend, who ultimately felt cast aside.
But The Social Network made a very canny choice: Instead of telling the story from the perspective of Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield)—a more natural and relatable lead character—they told it from Zuckerberg’s point of view. He was our protagonist, and as such, we got to know him from the inside out.
The Fifth Estate does the exact opposite: We see Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch, sporting a stringy white wig) almost exclusively through the eyes of his...