The Fifth Estate opened the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday night, receiving mixed reviews from critics.

The Fifth Estate tells the story of the founding of Wikileaks, specifically the tense relationship between founder Julian Assange and journalist/activist Daniel Domschelt-Berg (Daniel Bruhl). The film has received a lot of buzz, not only for its topical and controversial subject matter, but also for its star: Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch stars as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC hit Sherlock and most recently played the villain of Khan in the summer blockbuster Star Trek: Into Darkness.

The film, directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Breaking Dawn), presents itself as a study of the impact of raw information on journalism and how the world is run, but some critics are finding it hard to swallow. Denis Harvey of Variety writes that the film puts too much emphasis on the global, political context of WikiLeaks scandals, sacrificing the emotional tension of the film. The result, Harvey writes, is a chaotic, jumbled film that fails to really draw the audience in.

“Any five minutes of foregrounded human interest or backgrounded news material here could easily float the feature on its own. Both the kindest and most damning thing you can say about The Fifth Estate is that it primarily hobbles itself by trying to cram in more context-needy material than any single drama should have to bear,” Harvey states.

Of course, perhaps The Fifth Estate’s harshest critic is Assange himself, who has denounced the film as anti-WikiLeaks propaganda. Assange’s character in the film has been drawing comparisons to the Mark Zuckerberg character in The Social Network – both appear onscreen as egotistic, brilliant and morally corrupt men behind social revolutions.

“I didn’t have any direct access to Julian, no. We didn’t meet in person. He stated very clearly at the beginning of the project he didn’t want to condone the film because of the perspective it was showing of him and the story. So, that was a sort of closed door,” Cumberbatch told reporters at the festival when asked if he had any direct contact with the man he portrayed.

Cumberbatch is receiving rave reviews for his work in the film, as are actors Bruhl, Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci. Pete Hammond of Deadline praised the film as an excellent character study.

“It’s not a dry procedural or recital of recent headlines. This riveting drama is a character study of a narcissistic personality out of control, a man not afraid to leak everyone else’s secrets but his own. Benedict Cumberbatch, who can do no wrong lately, is brilliant as Assange,” Hammond writes.

Critics are struggling to place The Fifth Estate: is it an ambitious film questioning the morality of WikiLeaks and high-powered governments or is it a portrait of a flawed, yet powerful man?

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly writes that The Fifth Estate succeeds in being both:

“What I think a lot of the early, negative reaction to The Fifth Estate has missed is that the film is canny enough to present Assange not as a hero but as a highly ambiguous scoundrel-crusader who boldly test-drove…the new power of the Internet. A number of his scoops were brave and valid and incendiary, and would have made any mainstream news organization proud. Yet as the movie goes on, it’s tempered by a sobering awareness that an institution like WikiLeaks represents the fearlessness of great journalism without the accountability.”

The Fifth Estate opens in theaters Oct. 18.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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More on The Fifth Estate:

Benedict Cumberbatch Goes Blond To Play Julian Assange in 'The Fifth Estate'

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