Friday, January 2, 2015

Movie Review: The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game
Directed by: Morten Tyldum.
Written by: Graham Moore based on the book by Andrew Hodges.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke), Matthew Goode (Hugh Alexander), Rory Kinnear (Detective Robert Nock), Allen Leech (John Cairncross), Matthew Beard (Peter Hilton), Charles Dance (Commander Denniston), Mark Strong (Stewart Menzies), James Northcote (Jack Good), Tom Goodman-Hill (Sergeant Staehl), Steven Waddington (Superintendent Smith), Ilan Goodman (Keith Furman), Jack Tarlton (Charles Richards), Alex Lawther (Young Alan Turing).

The Imitation Game takes it cue from its main character – who the film portrays as intelligent and methodical. Alan Turing was a genius, who during WWII, spent his days building a machine that he believed would one day break the Nazi Enigma machine – a machine everyone else thought was unbreakable. His working building those machines and others like it, and his theories made him the father of computers. The movie moves efficiently, if rather bloodlessly, from beginning to end. It mainly focuses on Turing’s wartime efforts – but flashes back to his time in boarding school as a child, where he figured out he was gay, and his time after the war, where he became the target of a police investigation, at first because the cop thought he may be a spy, when in reality he was just trying to protect the secret of his sexuality. When the truth comes out, it destroys Turing’s life.

The Imitation Game isn’t much interested in that however. The film makes no secret of Turing’s sexuality, and the role it played in his suicide, but it doesn’t much explore it either. To a certain extent, you can argue that this is because the movie focuses on his wartime years, when he was under close scrutiny, so he kept his secret close to the vest (although he confesses it to two people during the course of the movie). But the movie could have used a little bit more exploration of his sexuality, if for no other reason than to humanize Turing a little bit more – because for much of the movie, he is portrayed as Sheldon Cooper like emotionless genius who has trouble relating to anyone around him.

This isn’t really the fault of Benedict Cumberbatch, who delivers a fine performance as Turing, than is able to suggest deeper levels to the man than the screenplay really does. There is no doubt about it, Cumberbatch portrays him as socially awkward – a man who realizes that no one around him likes him, and doesn’t really care. He knows he is a genius – if there one thing Turing doesn’t lack, it’s an ego – but it isn’t until he meets Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) that he lets anyone into his confidence. It’s through Joan that he starts to relate to the others on his team, tasked with breaking the enigma machine. The team starts out hating Turing – but grows to realize that he is a genius as well. What drives them crazy is how little emotion Turing shows at all times. They are all trying furiously to break the code because it means saving millions of Allied lives – Turing sees it all as a puzzle –a game, and he’s good at games.

The film is a prestige picture, and it is made with skill at all levels. Director Morten Tyldum, making his English language debut after his breakthrough – the comedic, Swedish caper film, Headhunters, that played like Coen brothers-lite. The film moves with efficiency from beginning to end. The screenplay is well structured, although it does contain its share of rather clunky dialogue (and the final “title card” right before the end credits is almost laughably on the nose. The rest of the performances in the movie aside from Cumberbatch’s are all fine.
The Imitation Game is by no means a bad movie. It works extremely well. But I couldn’t help but feel slightly let down by it either. It’s one of the Oscar frontrunners this year, and while I try to separate Oscar buzz from quality, this time I couldn’t help but think that the film is one of those that wins Oscars one year, and is completely forgotten the next. There is nothing really bad about The Imitation Game. There is nothing really great about it either.

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