"The Fifth Estate" kicked off the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday night, but where Bill Condon's film goes from there is up for debate among critics and awards bloggers, this despite a reported standing ovation from the attending crowd.
"I wouldn't read into that any Oscars significance," wrote Hollywood Reporter awards expert Scott Feinberg about the audience's response. "While many of the films playing at this year's fest are Oscar hopefuls, this one strikes me as more of a commercial play than an awards one."
Written by Josh Singer (who got his start on "The West Wing"), "The Fifth Estate" tells the story of the rise of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange through the eyes of a young hacker (played by Daniel Bruhl) who joins the movement in its early stages. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Assange, giving a transformative performance that even some underwhelmed critics were willing to praise.
"The actor looks and talks the part with a jittery intensity comparable to Jessie Eisenberg's similarly passionate techie in David Fincher's 'The Social Network,'" wrote Eric Kohn in his mixed-negative review at Indiewire. (Eisenberg received a Best Actor nomination for "The Social Network.")
Echoed Kohn's Indiewire colleague John Anderson: "Cumberbatch's Assange is ultimately likable, as well as complex, at war with keepers of secrets and also with himself. It's early to be speculating about awards, but Cumberbatch has certainly accomplished the unlikely, making a chilly public character a sympathetic martyr to a noble cause." Variety reviewer Dennis Harvey, however, was not a fan, noting that Cumberbatch's performance was "a somewhat one-dimensional turn, hemmed in by an overall sensibility that just can't stop to probe deeper."
That lack of depth was noticed by HitFix critic Drew McWeeny as well:
"Many of the actors who show up in the film seem to do so in order to convey a bit of important exposition, but there's so much they try to fit into the film that there's no time for the smaller details of human behavior, the things that would make this live and breathe in a way that something like Alex Gibney's 'We Steal Secrets' simply can't."
Of the early notices, only Deadline.com awards writer Pete Hammond was completely won over, comparing "The Fifth Estate" to classic 1970s features like "All The President's Men" and "The Parallax View." "I certainly would suspect Academy members looking for an intelligent thriller would consider this one," wrote Hammond. "The studio, though, decided to open the festival when the opportunity arose because it is known as 'the people’s festival' and they wanted to emphasize, first and foremost, this is a people's movie not just another Oscar wannabe."
This "people's movie" opens in theaters on Oct. 18. Many more reactions from the premiere screening of "The Fifth Estate" can be found in the curated tweets below.
The Fifth Estate just opened #TIFF13. Cumberbatch sold me on Assange. Demented, maybe. But brimming with a cleansing, righteous rage.
— Anthony Breznican (@Breznican) September 6, 2013
The Fifth Estate's take on Assange reminded me a little of Robespierre, another revolutionary who saw no gray areas after glaring injustice.
— Anthony Breznican (@Breznican) September 6, 2013
THE FIFTH ESTATE is basically THE SOCIAL NETWORK with Assange as a smellier, even less trustworthy Zuckerberg. #TIFF13
— Lou Lumenick (@LouLumenick) September 6, 2013
Main takeaway from THE FIFTH ESTATE: Alicia Vikander is gorgeous.
— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) September 6, 2013
Whatever else you may say about The Fifth Estate, Benedict Cumberbatch is a real movie star now. #TIFF13
— Mike Hogan (@mike_hogan) September 6, 2013
The Fifth Estate is a 2013 storyline trapped in a 90s hacker movie #TIFF13
— Alex Suskind (@AlexJSuskind) September 6, 2013
Benedict Cumberbatch and Laura Linney have the same haircut in THE FIFTH ESTATE. #TIFF
— Kate Erbland (@katerbland) September 6, 2013
#TIFF: FIFTH ESTATE: Powerful. Poignant. 2HR cliff notes to greatest information renegade of our time. Benedict Cumberbatch is masterful.
— Charles Thorp (@charlesthorp) September 6, 2013
Thought Bill Condon's FIFTH ESTATE was great. Learned a lot I didn't know and felt like he told all sides. Casting was perfect. #tiff13
— Steven Weintraub (@colliderfrosty) September 6, 2013
Fifth Estate gets ham-fisted towards the end, but compelling performances and a refusal to judge its main players carry it through. #TIFF
— Anton Sirius (@AntonSirius) September 6, 2013
I don't know what to make of The Fifth Estate. Except maybe that it's like reading an old newspaper in a nightcllub. #TIFF2013
— Damon Wise (@yo_damo) September 6, 2013
Wish THE FIFTH ESTATE concentrated more on the effect on journalism, dropped the girlfriend subplot and weird childhood flashbacks. #TIFF13
— Jennifer Mair (@NFB_Jennifer) September 6, 2013
My 2 out of 5 stars for The Fifth Estate go to Benedict Cumberbatch and Laura Linney for doing a half decent job. #TIFF13
— Art DepartMENTAL (@artdepartmental) September 6, 2013
The Fifth Estate: interesting story, Benedict (+accent) great, surreal moments a tad jarring, but made me want to join a revolution #TIFF13
— Alicia Malone (@aliciamalone) September 6, 2013
— Clint O'Connor (@ClintOMovies) September 6, 2013
The Fifth Estate (7.5/10) - accurate and entertainingly dramatized. An ode to wiki while giving an outside perspective. I'm impressed. #TIFF
— Simon Charette (@SimonCharette) September 6, 2013