The Imitation Game (Black Bear Pictures, FilmNation Entertainment)
During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code with help from fellow mathematicians.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightly, Matthew Goode. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Book by Andrew Hodges. Screenplay by Graham Moore. Executive Producers: Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman.
When it comes to portrayals of tortured, British heroes, is there anyone better than Benedict Cumberbatch to bring the character to life? Doubtful.
Set in post-World War II Great Britain, The Imitation Game tells the (highly fictionalized) story of Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician who develops the machine to crack Nazi’s WWII coded messages. The film weaves two stories together simultaneously—one of a break-in at Turing’s home in 1952 and the other of his work as a codebreaker in wartorn England.
As the protagonist Turing, Cumberbatch delivers a masterful performance. An outcast his entire life, Turing is socially inept and admittedly clueless to the subtleties of communication with people. Portrayed as a man with Asperger Syndrome, Turing has lived a life of ridicule, bullying and hiding his true identity as a gay man for fear of criminal prosecution. His social awkwardness is met with great resistance and perceived largely as arrogance as Turing is employed at the Government Code and Cypher School as part of the team charged with cracking Nazi Germany’s code writing machine, Enigma.
It isn’t until Turing meets Joan Clarke and learns how to interact, engage and be somewhat likable by the people with whom he works.
The Imitation Game sometimes feels like something out of a Jules Verne story: misunderstood genius builds a machine that will change the world, yet no one appreciates his creation until it’s nearly destroyed. What makes this story so captivating are the elements of reality at play. Granted, director Morten Tyldum takes sweeps of artistic license with the truth, but remember, this is art. It is not a documentary. The artistic leaps are not to obfuscate the all-important historical details of British intelligence gathering, rather it is to accentuate the struggles, the obstacles and the real consequences Turing was forced to endure. A gay man in mid-20th century England faced more than just public ostracizing. He could be prosecuted for crimes. Cumberbatch’s Turing is rather nonchalant about those realities, but we see in the flashbacks a young Turing struggle with his own identity; a struggle that likely shaped his decisions as an adult.
For a film about ultimately math, the pacing is rather quick, the dialogue is crisp and clever and the characters are brought to life with vibrant performances. Credit Tyldum with the pace, as he stays out of the mathematical minutia and focuses on the goal: solving a riddle. The Imitation Game is more like a whodunnit thriller than anything.
Cumberbatch is unquestionably the star of this film, but the cast boasts its fair share of heavyweights. As Commander Deniston, Charles Dance is quickly becoming our favorite Brit We Love To Hate. Nevertheless, the scenes between Dance and Cumberbatch have an unmistakable chemistry as the two verbally joust over “Christopher.” Keira Knightley turns in a strong performance as a woman who must overcome the overt sexism of the times to excel in a world dominated by men. While we all wish Joan would be more forceful, the reality is women needed to play the long game to achieve respect. Through Knightley, we see Joan as a woman who gravitates to Turing because of their mutual struggles on different plains. She proves to be an important ally not just to Turing, but to the war effort. And once again, Mark Strong turns up in yet another Oscar-worthy film and delivers a rocksteady performance as an MI6 agent.
Tyldum masterfully weaves Turing’s WWII story into the 1951 thread effortlessly. The former showed Turing’s (and his team’s) brilliance in cracking the Nazi code, while the latter helped us understand the personal battles he faced on a daily basis. Tyldum found a balance between these two, major arcs and never skimped on either.
Alan Turing is a bit of a tragic figure in world history. He is a man who contributed to one of the most important causes of the 20th century, but was nearly forgotten simply because of his sexuality. While The Imitation Game is not an historical work, it should certainly provide some vindication for a man whose time is long overdue.
RATING: **** stars (out of five)