'Fifth Estate' dazzles, doesn't dig deep in Assange

| Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

As the world doesn't seem to have quite made up its mind about Julian Assange, it seems fitting that the new film about him and the rise of WikiLeaks has an ambivalence about it, as well.

“The Fifth Estate” takes us inside the hackers milieu. It visits the very real consequences of Assange's actions. But it never gets inside the man.

Director Bill (“Kinsey”/ “Dreamgirls”) Condon dazzles us with the whirl of Assange's crusade. In a breathless two hours, the film lets us see the man through the eyes of a new recruit and close associate. Young Euro-hacker Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl of “Rush”) is in awe of this international man of mystery, charismatic with his shock of white hair, his steely determination to set up a website run by legions of whistle-blowers just like himself.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Assange as a somewhat-justified paranoid. He is a man above the mayhem he creates.

Assange sees conspiracies everywhere and has a sneering contempt for mainstream news organizations (the fourth estate) he figures WikiLeaks displaces. Only, nobody is noticing WikiLeaks at the time Berg is recruited.

Berg starts wondering who this wildly secretive weirdo with an obsession for control, privacy and fame really is and how big the infrastructure of the suddenly famous WikiLeaks is.

Bruhl brings a youthful enthusiasm and naivete to Berg. Laura Linney is terrific as a State Department employee trying to do her work, frantically pulling in secret sources before they're exposed and murdered.

And the aloof, guarded Cumberbatch plays Assange as a mixture of brilliance, hucksterism, ego and naivete. For all the technical sparkle, Condon never quite connects all the dots about Assange.

Roger Moore is a staff writer for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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