Review: Bright stars save WikiLeaks tale 'Fifth Estate'

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While it's no "Social Network," the Julian Assange tale "The Fifth Estate" is still a fascinating look into the machinations of the rogue website WikiLeaks, no matter the fact that Assange blasted the film and Hollywood in a leaked letter to star Benedict Cumberbatch last week.

WikiLeaks, for the completely uninitiated, is a website that Assange designed for whistleblowers to leak sensitive information about corruption with virtually no way of being tracked -- even by its creator. The film tracks WikiLeaks from its origins and Assange's pairing with fellow computer whiz Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl); to when the site stuck it's hardest blow in 2010 after it leaked loads of classified U.S. government information about the war in Afghanistan and put countless numbers of lives in danger.

The film poses the question to viewers of whether Assange was a hero or a traitor, and that of course will be debatable to anyone who has any interest in the matter (the movie will unlikely change their opinion either way). From a cinematic standpoint, at least, "The Fifth Estate" paints Assange as a creepy-looking, paranoid megalomaniac with an ego the size of Mount Olympus, haunted by the cultish atmosphere he was raised in. He's a genius, maybe, but a mad one at that. At least the character fits well into the groove of the film as it manically crosses the globe in a somewhat confused attempt to tell the story.

No matter if "The Fifth Estate" tells the true story or not -- and Assange is the only one who claims to know it -- at least it's worth watching for great performances by Cumberbatch and Bruhl (who is also spectacular in the Formula One racing drama "Rush").

While director Bill Condon puts Cumberbatch and Bruhl to good use, he squanders Anthony Mackie as FBI Agent Sam Coulson, who has little to do but shrug his shoulders when Assange begins to wreak havoc on the government. Then there's Laura Linney as foreign attaché Sarah Shaw, whose role in the whole matter is never that clearly defined. At least Linney and Stanley Tucci (who plays another government official, James Boswell) are interesting to watch because they're such wonderful actors.

In his letter to Cumberbatch, Assange points out how "The Fifth Estate" is based on two negative novels about him (one of them by Berg), and it's funny how the film addresses his issues in an epilogue sandwiched in the end credits. You almost have to wonder whether somebody (wiki)leaked a copy of the film to Assange, who is currently fighting extradition by being holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

"The Fifth Estate," rated R, 2 1/2 stars out of 4.

What other local critics are saying ...

Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press give the film 1 star, saying it gives us no clear direction on what to think "after two confounding hours."

Colin Covert of the Star Tribune gives the film 1 1/2 stars out of four, calling it "a cyberthriller without thrills."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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