Will TIFF opener ‘The Fifth Estate’ be an Oscar contender?

Timing is everything in show biz and “The Fifth Estate” — Oscar champ Bill Condon‘s (“Gods and Monsters”) new film about the Wikileaks scandal– opened the Toronto film festival just weeks after US Army private Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for passing along the documents at the heart of the affair. 

Benedict Cumberbatch eerily evokes Julian Assange, the man behind the website that brought to light loads of secret documents in the past five years. Among others in the top-notch cast are Daniel Bruhl as Wikileaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-BergDan Stevens as British journalist Ian Katz and Laura Linney as White House politico Sarah Shaw

Linney reaped a supporting actress Oscar bid for Condon’s “Kinsey” back in 2004 while Cumberbatch and Bruhl, who are well-matched in this movie, are also being touted this Oscar season for their featured roles in other films. The former plays Southern fellows of very different temperaments and times in “12 Years a Slave” and “August: Osage County” while the latter is renowned racer Niki Lauda in “Rush.” 

Cumberbatch came to fame playing an updated version of Conan Doyle’s detective “Holmes” in the BBC hit “Sherlock” and contends at this year’s Emmys for his role in the period piece “Parade’s End.” Ditching his dapper looks, this British actor transforms himself into an Aussie renegade in “The Fifth Estate” while in “12 Years” he is a sympathetic slave owner and in “August” he plays a mealy-mouthed momma’s boy. 

That triple play has already caught the attention of BAFTA, which is honoring him in Los Angeles on Nov. 9 with the British Artist of the Year prize at the Britannia Awards. Early reviews for “The Fifth Estate,” while mostly muted about the movie, are all enthusiastic about his portrayal of the enigmatic Assange. 

Many reviewers compared this DreamWorks film to David Fincher‘s “The Social Network” — which made a strong play for Best Picture three years ago — and found it wanting. However, our pal Pete Hammond (Deadline), who is one of the savviest Oscarologists around, was impressed: “This is the best film of its kind to hit the screen since ‘All The President’s Men’ in 1976. Condon’s direction is reminiscent of the style employed by Alan Pakula in that film and others from the era like ‘The Parallax View’ and’ Klute.’ And it moves like a freight train.”

“The Fifth Estate” opens on Oct. 18, less than three weeks after the Emmys on Sept. 22 where one of the hottest contenders is “Homeland.” That drama series also delves into the dark world of covert affairs. The morality at play makes for compelling viewing, be it the debate about naming informers that drives a wedge between Assange and Berg or the government’s use of torture that is at the heart of “Homeland.” 

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