TIFF Preview: Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange


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