TIFF Preview: Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange

THE FIFTH ESTATE

Cumberbatch as Assange? Sounds ideal. But Bill Condon makes me nervous after his awful “Twilight” films … In any event, “The Fifth Estate” is likely a fall film not to miss.

“Dreamgirls” director Bill Condon helms this absorbing dramatization of the rise and fall of Wikileaks and its fascinating founder Julian Assange. “The Fifth Estate” is a truly 21st-century saga of technology, politics and civic responsibility.

You don’t disclose three-quarters of a million classified documents without making a few enemies. So discovers WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate,” a mesmerizing, complex portrait of an embattled new-media luminary. “The Fifth Estate” details WikiLeaks’s rise to international notoriety and the subsequent souring of relations between Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch, also appearing at the Festival in “12 Years a Slave” and “August: OsageCounty”) and his most trusted lieutenant, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl, also at the Festival in Ron Howard’s “Rush”).

Drawing on Domscheit-Berg’s memoir, Inside WikiLeaks, as well as a 2011 exposé by British journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding, screenwriter Josh Singer chronicles the friendship that underpinned the whistleblower organization’s formative feats of information activism (targeting entities including Swiss private bank Julius Baer, the Church of Scientology, and the British National Party), and would end in acrimonious estrangement following WikiLeaks’s un-redacted publication of nearly 750,000 United States military logs and diplomatic cables — the largest leak of official secrets in American history.

As well as an engrossing investigative thriller, “The Fifth Estate” is a drama of Shakespearean dimensions, driven by a masterful performance from Cumberbatch. His Assange is a fiercely intelligent coil of contradictions, tyrannical in his advocacy for transparency, at once both hubristic and deeply insecure. Brühl, in turn, contributes an adroit portrayal of conflicted devotion, leading an exceptional supporting cast that also includes Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie, Alicia Vikander, and David Thewlis.

Rounding out a remarkable package is Condon’s fleet, propulsive direction, which ensures “The Fifth Estate” is not only among the year’s timeliest films, but also its most entertaining.

Photo courtesy of TIFF

40 Days to Go: Highlights From TIFF’s First (Cumber)batch of Announcements

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

The Toronto International Film Festival is the only major fest I am able to attend each year, so it’s a bit like my Super Bowl. Covering TIFF for Buffalo Spree has been an amazing experience—here is my post-festival analysis from last year—and each year seems to bring new pleasures. In many ways, the festival is an indicator of all the hits (and misses) audiences in Buffalo and beyond can expect for the remainder of the year.

I’m always thrilled to hear the first batch of announcements, and Tuesday morning’s press conference certainly included some films I was hoping would hit TO. Here are some thoughts that first appeared in a piece by me at BuffaloSpree.com.

  • 12 Years a Slave skips Venice for Toronto: This is big. Steve McQueen’s Shame was my favorite film of TIFF 2011—and of 2011, period—so I’m personally thrilled. Skipping Venice and debuting in TO is a major coup for Cameron Bailey and his fellow TIFF organizers.
  • The full Midnight Madness line-up is coming on July 30: It is always fun to see what’s in store here. Last year, I did not make it to any of them. Funny, I recall DESPERATELY wanting to attend the Seven Psychopaths midnight screening. Glad I waited …
  • TIFF’s 2013 MVPs: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, and Mia Wasikowska all appear in multiple films. Cumberbatch is in three (!), most notably opening night film The Fifth Estate, in which he plays Julian Assange.
  • Under the Skin finally arrives: Jonathan Glazer’s (Sexy Beast, Birth) Scarlett Johansson-starring quasi-sci-fi film has been in production for a lonnng time. Very exciting to see it here.
  • Lots of Cannes hits: The controversial Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour, Like Father Like Son, and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive were three of the most buzzed-about Cannes 2013 entries.
  • The return of Jason Reitman: The first movie I ever saw at TIFF was Reitman’s Juno, and Jared Mobarak and I had the privilege of shaking the director’s hand afterwards. (I’m sure he was thrilled.) Labor Day, starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet, seems like a perfect story for his typical blend of humor and drama.
  • Oscar buzz: August: Osage County, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Dallas Buyer’s Club, Rush, The Fifth Estate, and Gravity are already in the mix.
  • The return of hometown TIFF favorites: In addition to Reitman, Don McKellar and Atom Egoyan are back; the full Canadian lineup is coming soon.
  • Some films I did not even know were in production are screening here: I had no idea Jason Bateman was directing a film (Bad Words), that the late James Gandolfini was starring with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Nicole Holofcener’s next project (Enough Said), or that Kelly Reichardt’s follow-up to Meek’s Cutoff was finished (Night Moves).
  • Missing in action (so far): There is still lots of time for more announcements; TIFF maestro Cameron Bailey said the first batch only included about one-quarter of the complete lineup. But some I’m still hoping to see added are Spike Lee’s Oldboy, Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem (it is playing Venice), and Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man. Also missing, so far, are three of the best-reviewed films at Cannes: the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Robert Redford in All Is Lost, and Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska.

I’ll be covering TIFF 2013 for Spree, on my site, FilmSwoon.com, and hopefully for some other outlets, too, so there is plenty more to come. It’s on, kids …

Photo from 12 Years a Slave courtesy of TIFF.net