Any protagonist in any movie has got to have at least some little something that draws you to him. I mean, cmon, even Hannibal Lecter exuded some charm when he wasnt ripping the faces off of people.

But thats not the case with Julian Assange, the founder of the anti-secrecy Website WikiLeaks. As played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Assange comes across as someone whos passionate about his calling in life but is also a practitioner of questionable ethics, a man without even a hint of social graces and, to put it bluntly, is a jerk. Seriously, do you really want to spend any time with this guy?

The film begins with WikiLeaks massive 2010 leak of secret files and military records concerning U.S. activities in Afghanistan, then shoots back to 2007 when the organization was just a one-man operation in Europe.

But it was soon to have one more person working with Assange, a German computer expert named Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl), who fell under Assanges spell. If Assange was the leader, Berg was the willing follower. If Assange was the idea man, Berg did all of the grunt work. If Berg was just a regular fellow, Assange was a mystery man living in his own bubble.

The whole thing of WikiLeaks was to expose corruption in the world, including human rights violations, by offering anonymity to whistleblowers who would send information to the organization. Thats how wrongdoings in a Swiss bank and death squads in Kenya were made public.

One of the films problems is how director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, the last two Twilight films) shows the way things work. The WikiLeaks system is explained via some dazzling visuals that are more distracting than useful. A similar situation occurs later when Condon throws in a couple of surreal fantasy scenes about certain characters inner thoughts. But theyre so jarring, they pull you out of the film.

Yet for some viewers, these problems will be the spice that might keep them interested in watching. The movie is repetitive and draggy, constantly presenting Assanges quiet rants concerning true commitment to causes and the sacrifice that goes along with it, or keeping up the folly of telling others about the hundreds of volunteers in the organization, when there are only two, or the ever-building rift between Assange and Berg when, for example, Berg suggests to his boss that they are journalists, which means they have to verify their sources.

But Assange, never willing to veer from his mission, which includes protecting those sources, doesnt care about being professional. No matter what hes putting up on that website, hes convinced that its information the world needs to know.

While WikiLeaks involves only two people, the film is filled with lots of folks on different sides of different issues. David Thewlis plays Nick Davies, a reporter at the British daily the Guardian, and is an early supporter of getting Assanges information in print, as long as names are redacted in order to keep the people safe. The U.S. State Department (Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci, wasted in brief roles) gets involved when Assange starts to make a name for himself in Europe.

When the stakes reach new heights, as they do with the release of that Afghanistan information, some interesting turns take place with Assange growing paranoid over the idea that hes being watched by both the CIA and the KGB. Theyre looking for us; theyve got people everywhere! he says in one of his very few excitable moments. But in the end, the film fizzles without ever catching fire. Even in the supposedly revelatory coda, Assange remains a total mystery, except for one thing: No one likes him.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.

THE FIFTH ESTATE

Written by Josh Singer; directed by Bill Condon

With Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis

Rated R