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Movies: 'The Fifth Estate,' 'Don Jon' & 'Runner Runner'

Published 4:16 pm, Friday, October 18, 2013
  • "The Fifth Estate," a dramatization of the WikiLeaks scandal, is now playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    "The Fifth Estate," a dramatization of the WikiLeaks scandal, is now playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"THE FIFTH ESTATE"

Based on real events, this edgy, dramatic thriller exposes the deceptions, deceits and cyber-power wielded by Julian Assange, founder/creator of WikiLeaks.

The story begins when arrogant Australian anarchist Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who's determined to use his database to uncover corporate fraud and government corruption, is joined in this endeavor by an idealistic partner/assistant, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl).

Railing against injustice, they bring down Swiss bank Julius Baer, display Kenyan death squads, disclose the identities of neo-Nazi British National Party members, and post a video illustrating how the murder of two Reuters journalists was covered up by U.S. troops in Iraq.

But all that was minor compared with WikiLeaks' publication of Bradley Manning's theft of classified military documents and diplomatic cables from Iraq and Afghanistan -- in conjunction with The New York Times, London's The Guardian and Germany's Der Spiegel -- a depiction of institutionalized violence that's been compared with the Pentagon Papers. Problem was: the WikiLeaks posting of unredacted names threatened the lives of loyal informers.

The title encompasses any digital-age communication group, including the blogosphere, in opposition to mainstream media: The First Estate refers to the clergy, The Second Estate to the nobility, The Third Estate to the commoners and The Fourth Estate to the press.

Based on "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website" by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy" by David Leigh and Luke Harding, it's unevenly adapted by Josh Singer and erratically directed by Bill Condon ("Kinsey," "Gods and Monsters") with too little unbiased backstory and too much feverish frenzy. "The Social Network" was far more compelling.

Wearing a white/blond wig, British actor Cumberbatch (TV's "Sherlock Holmes") embodies megalomaniacal Assange's ruthless manipulation, while Bruhl (Niki Lauda in "Rush") serves as his rational counterpoint -- with Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and David Thewlis lending support.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Fifth Estate" is a chaotic, speculative 6, haphazardly revealing the state of 21st-century Internet journalism which, seemingly, lacks any semblance of accountability.

"DON JON"

From "Pillow Talk" to pornography in three generations! In 1959, director Michael Gordon teamed Doris Day with Rock Hudson for a quintessentially innocent romantic comedy. Now, his 32-year-old grandson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has made one of the raunchiest and most explicit mainstream movies about a young man's addiction to cyber-sex.

Every Saturday night in New Jersey, hunky bartender Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) hangs out with his "boys" (Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke) and picks up the most attractive woman in a bar for a one-night stand. That's why he's called "Don Jon."

But his real satisfaction comes from his laptop, which is loaded with pornography. He indulges constantly, confesses to a Catholic priest on Sunday and recites his requisite penance of Hail Marys while pumping iron at the gym. That's never been a problem until he meets sexy, sassy, gum-smacking Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), who's determined to find an old-fashioned fantasy of Mr. Right, an idealized man who will do no wrong.

Trying to please her, brash, swaggering Jon not only enrolls in night school to "better" himself but he also takes bodacious Barbara home to meet his parents (Tony Danza, Glenne Headley) and silently-texting sister (Brie Larson).

Problem is: Insatiable Jon cannot give up his only avenue to physical ecstasy, defensively asserting, "Everybody watches porn."

And that doesn't seem to bother unconventional Esther (Julianne Moore), whom Jon meets in class. She's a lonely widow who introduces him to intimacy and sets him straight on what really counts.

As actor/writer/director Gordon-Levitt ("Looper," "50/50," "500 Days of Summer") explores what makes romantic relationships tick with bawdy, satirical frankness, adroitly guiding Johansson from sexual tease to subversive oppressor and Moore from subtle warmth to sensual heat.

As his boorish father, Danza is terrific, while Larson makes the most of her all-too-few lines. Yet, despite adroit pacing, there's too much testosterone in the racy, if redundant, masturbatory footage.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Don Jon" is a sleazy yet seductive 7, cleverly distinguishing the difference between lust and love.

"RUNNER RUNNER"

Set in the world of online gambling, this story revolves around Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), a mathematically adept Princeton grad student who used to work on Wall Street but, unlike his bosses, lost everything in the 2008 meltdown. Now he works as an "initiator," collecting a commission for directing fellow Ivy Leaguers to a poker wagering website.

After a "cease-and-desist" threat of expulsion from Dean Monroe (Bob Gunton), Richie bets his tuition bankroll on a round of digital Texas Hold 'Em, which, against all odds, he loses.

Believing that he's been swindled, Richie travels to Costa Rica to confront the online poker company's CEO, Ivan Black (Ben Affleck), who lives offshore, outside federal jurisdiction.

It's a remarkable coincidence that he arrives in San Jose just as a rousing gambling convention convenes and meets Block, who promptly offers him a lucrative job, ostensibly grooming him as a protege. Then there's flirtatious Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), who may or may not be Ivan's exclusive arm candy. Not surprisingly, Richie soon grows suspicious of his devious, obviously corrupt boss, who enjoys feeding chicken carcasses to his pet crocodiles and cites Meyer Lansky as an ethical idol. When an FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) pressures Richie to turn informant to take down Ivan on criminal charges, he faces a high-stakes moral dilemma.

Director Brad Furman ("The Lincoln Lawyer," "The Take") encounters insurmountable obstacles working with Brian Koppelman and David Levien's ("Rounders," "Oceans 13") sketchy, stilted, contrived and certainly-not-credible script, but his casting sense remains sharp.

Affleck ("Argo") embodies his contemptible character, while Timberlake ("The Social Network") oozes earnestness, proving, once again, that this pop singer can be convincing as an actor.

Exotic Puerto Rico doubles for Costa Rica here, and product placement spotters should note Richie orders Bud Light, which is not surprising since that beverage is a Timberlake concert sponsor.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Runner Runner" stacks the deck with a dicey 4, meaning that buying a ticket is a gamble that doesn't pay off. Rent "Rounders" (1998) instead.