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Even before Bill Condon's film had premiered at Toronto, IMDb's message board was fizzing with heated controversy. 'Propaganda', 'character assassination', 'deep-rooted ignorance', 'pro-Assange', 'anti-Assange' - the accusations zinged back and forth.
Come to the movie with an open mind - if you can, given how widely the whole Julian Assange/WikiLeaks affair has been splashed across the media - and you may end up wondering how much of the truth (and whose truth) you've been watching.
Since Josh Singer's script is drawn from accounts written by two of the men who became most disillusioned with Assange - his WikiLeaks partner Daniel Domscheit-Berg (here played by Daniel Brühl) and Guardian journalist David Leigh - it's not surprising that the movie winds up concluding that a brave whistle blowing crusade ran aground on the jagged rock of Assange's rampant ego.
Parallels to David Fincher's The Social Network abound, with Berg playing Eduardo Saverin to Assange's Mark Zuckerberg. We watch as the relationship gradually splits and shatters until Berg is forced to agree with journalist Nick Davies' (David Thewlis) verdict, "He's a manipulative asshole…" Predictably, Assange has denounced the movie as a malicious fiction.
Condon, doing a major U-turn after the last two Twilights , directs with pace and vigour, even if he indulges a little too freely in screen-swamping computer graphics. We kick off in 2010, with the bombshell of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning's infamous Iraqgate emails, then backtrack to Berg's first encounter with the WikiLeaks founder.
There's strong support from Brühl, Thewlis and Alicia Vikander, though Peter Capaldi (as Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger) isn't given much to do. Really, though, the movie belongs to Benedict Cumberbatch. Deploying a commanding presence and an abrasive Aussie drawl, he adds impressively to his gallery of coldly brilliant sociopaths, delving into darkness once again.
With a riveting portrayal by Cumberbatch at its heart, The Fifth Estate tells its story grippingly - but finally leaves us none the wiser.
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