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Does Benedict Cumberbatch Do Justice to Julian Assange? Here's What the Critics Are Saying

By Ramzi De Coster | Indiewire September 6, 2013 at 12:01PM

While most critics were underwhelmed by the Toronto International Film Festival's opening night selection, Bill Condon's WikiLeaks thriller "The Firth Estate," they all sang praises of the film's lead star Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrays WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the DreamWorks release.
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The Fifth Estate

While most critics were underwhelmed by the Toronto International Film Festival's opening night selection, Bill Condon's WikiLeaks thriller "The Firth Estate," they all sang praises of the film's lead star Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrays WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the DreamWorks release.

While Condon and writer Josh Singer’s account of the WikiLeaks controversy in the form of a dramatic thriller has been called "unfocused" and "familiar," Cumberbatch’s performance has been placed in the limelight for its depth and detail in displaying "a jittery intensity comparable to Jessie Eisenberg's similarly passionate techie in David Fincher's 'The Social Network.'"

Check out what critics have to say about "The Fifth Estate"'s Cumberbatch-Assange portrayal:

Eric Kohn, Indiewire:
With rising star Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, buried under long blond hair and a thick Australian accent, "The Fifth Estate" gets one thing right: 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."

John Anderson, Thompson on Hollywood:
Listen up, Cumberbitches: The first estate was the clergy, the second the nobility, the third the peasantry, the fourth the press, and “The Fifth Estate” is all Benedict Cumberbatch, who in Bill Condon’s painstaking WikiLeaks movie gives us the not the Julian Assange we know, but rather the Julian Assange we want. And maybe need. It would be natural to think that Cumberbatch was working at a disadvantage, considering all the exposure the real Assange has had in the media, and the widespread familiarity of his rather chilly, white-maned persona, but the opposite is true. Cumberbatch adopts the Wikileaks founder’s Australian cadences, and even a few of the mannerisms, but the more impressive trick is how he imbues Assange – someone we think we know -- with warmth, zeal and modesty, in a character whose reflex is to conceal those very qualities from those around him.

Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist
If there is any digital silver lining in this movie of numerous scenes of frenzied typing on laptops, endless visuals of html code and big location intertitles as Julian and Daniel traverse Europe, it's the performances of Cumberbatch and Brühl (with the former nailing Assange's distinct accent). They share a solid chemistry and play off each other well, delivering turns that certainly deserved better material than they were given.

Tim Robey, The Daily Telegraph:
Benedict Cumberbatch is inspiredly cast, serving up a technically ingenious performance which may be his juiciest ever. Where a lot of biopics (this isn’t one, really) content themselves with either passable impersonation or a kind of party-trick caricature, he seizes the chance to show us both an instantly recognisable Assange and a psychologically detailed one.

Catherine Shoard, The Guardian:
As for Cumberbatch, he's both the asset and the slight undoing; so magnetic as to render hopes of a two-hander redundant. It's a virtuoso impersonation, from the deep drawl to louche geek twitches. Suited, he could pass for Nick Cave after a night or two in the fridge. Mostly, though, this Assange is as extraterrestrial as Cumberbatch's Khan in last year's Star Trek, lip-smacking vampire typing through the night. From a distance, he looks like a lizardy angel, courageously saving the world; close up he squints and snuffles like a bleached, greasy mouse.

 John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter:
Benedict Cumberbatch has the character in hand from the start -- his way of brushing into another's space and making it his office, of not seeing others unless they're reflecting back some of the energy he emits, of elevating himself by making others' concerns sound trivial. The actor brings extra ambiguity to scenes in which Assange is ostensibly opening up to people; only once (when activist associates in Kenya are killed) do his emotions seem untainted by manipulative play-acting.

This article is related to: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Fifth Estate, Wikileaks, Toronto International Film Festival, Bill Condon, Reviews