'The Fifth Estate' tries too hard to tell the audience what to think of Julian Assange

'The Fifth Estate' stars Benedict Cumberbatch as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

By , Film critic

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    'The Fifth Estate' stars Benedict Cumberbatch (r.) and Dan Stevens (l.).
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Julian Assange is a movie waiting to happen and it’s happened twice, with Alex Gibney’s terrific documentary “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks’’ and now Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate,” a jittery talkathon based primarily on the memoir of the WikiLeaks founder’s formerly trusted lieutenant, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, as well as a 2011 expose by British journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding.

The omnipresent Benedict Cumberbatch plays Assange, stringy white-gray hair flowing, and Daniel Brühl is Domscheit-Berg. Condon and his screenwriter Josh Singer don’t quite know what to make of this duo, perhaps because the men didn’t quite know what to make of each other, either.

Most often Assange comes across as a hubristic, tantrum-throwing egomaniac whose desire for justice and transparency takes second place to his avidity for celebrity. It’s a weirdly inventive performance in a movie that otherwise keeps telling us what to think about the man who unleashed the largest leak of official, un-redacted secrets in American history. “Tyrants of the world should beware,” says a Guardian writer (David Thewlis) about Assange at the end of the film. Would that it were that simple. Grade: C (Rated R for language and some violence.)

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