Movie Review: The Imitation Game

Review contains incredibly mild spoilers.
FotorCreated

  • Director: Morten Tyldum
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Goode, Keira Knightley
  • Screenplay: Graham Moore
  • Based on the Book by: Andrew Hodges
  • Cinematography: Oscar Faura
  • Score by: Alexandre Desplat
  • Running Time: 114 Minutes
  • Premiered: December 25, 2014 (US Release)

 Synopsis: During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code with help from fellow mathematicians. (Synopsis from IMDb)

Review: “Sometimes it’s the people no one expects anything from who do the things no one expects,” this is the philosophy that the narrative is built around. The Imitation Game is a historical drama set in England during World War II. This drama explores how several cryptologists and mathematicians managed to break the mysterious German Enigma machine. Most of the narrative explores the struggles of the genius mathematician Alan Turing. Actually, this is more of a character study wrapped in a larger story. The story is told in a semi-linear format; there are a lot of flashbacks to Turing’s early life.

The Imitation Game opens during the winter of 1952 with British detectives entering the home of Professor Alan Turing in response to a burglary. Instead of investigating the robbery, the detective arrest Turing on charges of “gross indecency”. The film flashes back to the late 1930s and explains how Turing came to work with a mish mashed group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers. For the first half of the film the narrative details the difficulties of the team and how they react to Turing’s eccentricities. About halfway through the film they finally break the code and the pacing speeds up. This leaves the audience to deal with the moral conundrums and math problems missing from the first half of the film. There are also talks of double agents, intrigue, and Turing’s homosexuality to keep the story moving.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s career continues to go from strength to strength. He adds another feather to his cap with his excellent portrayal of the conflicted Alan Turing.  Cumberbatch manages to strike a balance between intensity, vulnerability, and charisma. In his own unique way, Turing manages to cast a spell over the audience. Somewhere between the teary eyes, slight stammer, and innocent looks, Cumberbatch infuses life into a complex character. His portrayal is worthy of the Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Alex Lawther plays the young Alan Turing in the flashback scenes. Lawther does a fantastic job portraying young Alan’s struggles to fit in at his boarding school. It is entirely believable that the young Alan eventually grows into Cumberbatch’s conflicted genius. I think Lawther has a brilliant career in front of him. Mark Strong and Charles Dance were as fantastically forceful as usual. Downton Abbey alums Allen Leech and Matthew Goode help round out the cast of genius codebreakers.  

 Keira Knightley does a solid turn portraying Joan Clark and her struggle to find acceptance in a male dominated world. I am not the greatest fan of Knightley’s acting, but I thought she did an excellent job. She plays off the rest of the cast quite well and her character brings out a touch of humanity in Turing. Joan is a brilliant puzzle solver and quickly becomes the only person Turing enjoys talking with, their relationship leads to Turing’s quirkily endearing but half-hearted marriage proposal.  As the movie is mostly about breaking Enigma, the relationship development occurs rather quickly. Actually none of the characters are overly developed, with the exception of Turing.

The Imitation Game tries to strike a balance between exploring Turing’s life and his efforts to help break Enigma. As a result, the film never really shows the messy complexity of his life. Which is probably a good thing since this film is not really about Turing’s personal life struggles. Turing lived during a time when the Labouchere Amendment was still in effect so Turing’s sexual preferences were illegal. The narrative uses Turing interrogation by a sympathetic detective as a framing device for the voiceover narration. This depicts Turing as a bright genius who was burned out way too soon. But it also kills any sense of linear progression. While the flashback scenes were well executed and seamlessly interwoven throughout, I am still not a huge fan of this style.

Sometimes the exploration of Turing’s life overwhelms the emotional drama stemming from cracking Enigma. I would have preferred a more detailed exploration of the moral conundrum Turing and company find themselves in since they cannot tell anyone about their accomplishment, Cinematography wise the film is gorgeously shot. The 1930-1940s aesthetic is beautifully brought to life. This is an excellent historical drama, even though the ending felt rather rushed.

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