As jumpy as its real-life subject, the Ecuadorian Embassy shut-in, Julian Assange, The Fifth Estate -- directed by Bill Condon and boasting a pitch-perfect performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as the white-maned, maniacal WikiLeaks founder -- opened the 38th Toronto International Film Festival Thursday night. A kind of cyber-thriller whose real nemesis proves to be its bask-in-glory protagonist, the film co-stars Daniel Bruhl as Assange's early ally, Daniel Berg, with running-around-the- newsroom-making-urgent-pronouncements assists from David Thewlis and Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens. Condon, the man behind Gods and Monsters, Kinsey and the two Twilight: Breaking Dawns, appeared on the Elgin Theater stage to intro his film to a crowd of characteristically enthusiastic Torontontonians -- and carpetbaggers like me. He talked about the issue of privacy vs. transparency, and also about film critic Roger Ebert, who he first met at a Toronto fest years back. Ebert, who died in April and was long a fixture at TIFF, was the subject of a short, sweet documentary tribute before The Fifth Estate screened.
Overheard in the Elgin aisles before the lights went down: "If you have to go the the bathroom during the film, be sure to say, `Excuse me, I have to take a WikiLeak.'"
Also seen Thursday, at an industry screening (very) shortly after rolling into town: Labor Day, with Kate Winslet as a depressed and shattered single mom whose life pivots dramatically when an escaped con (Josh Brolin) invites himself over to the house she shares with her 7th grader son (Gattlin Griffith). Suspense, and baking lessons, ensue. Adapted from the Joyce Maynard novel by Up In the Air's Jason Reitman, Labor Day plays like a romance novel written by pulp master Jim Thompson. It's going to make some viewers very happy, and some very mad.