A disclaimer: I’m a proud Cumbercollective member. Let that color the review as you will.
The Imitation Game is the new biopic picture about Alan Turing: legendary mathematician, oddball and the codebreaker of WWII. If you’re wondering about whether you’ve heard about his ideas before – you have. The sequence in Blade Runner, where Deckard is trying to determine if Rachel is a replicant, is based on Turing’s writing about Artificial Intelligence. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, I don’t want to know you. More about The Imitation Game after the jump.
The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, “Game of Thrones” favorite: Charles Dance, and Mark Strong, that British guy you know, but you don’t know his name. All bring strong performances to an overall strong movie. We follow various timelines in Turing’s life seamlessly so we can build to Turing’s breaking of the Enigma code. This is the code that Nazi Germany used to send all of their communications. Turing, a recluse, antisocial and a massive narcissist, must work with a team to break a code that resets every 24 hours. The task seems impossible until we see Turing begin to build what is considered the first computer. There are ups and downs, Keira Knightley is recruited and then used as an afterthought throughout the rest of the film. Not really a spoiler – the Enigma code is broken after Turing learns to work together with his colleagues.
The more interesting second half of the film is dedicated to what happens after they break the code. It’s a very important part of the film to show. They have deciphered the code but are obligated to keep it under wraps so the Nazis don’t know they’ve broken the code and continue using the system they can decode. This means they have to allow a statistical number of deaths so the Nazis won’t know Britain is on to them. It’s a solemn look at the price of war and the intrigue that follows even after you think you’ve won.
Down to the nitty gritty. The film does a lot of things well. The various timelines are easy to follow and they contribute well to the story itself. Turing’s admission of being a homosexual is handled with relative deftness. Though some of the early school scenes are a bit heavy handed, the movie deals plainly with a fact of his life, and his eventual death. Showing the consequence of war was a very important for this to be more than your standard biopic pic. They do it well and it’s not crammed into the plot. Most of the performances are subtle and telling. Cumberbatch does a great job of bringing his character to life.
Now the bad. The script strips almost all of the science out of Turing’s process as he creates his invention. This dumbs it down for the audience but it also loses any investment we might have had in the struggle to create the world’s first computer. None of Turing’s colleagues actually contribute much to his project after Turing too easily wins them over. Knightley has a scene that seems to have been plopped into the movie for the sole purpose of getting her an Oscar nomination. At the start of the scene she is on to Turing’s deflections and by the end of it she seems to have been taken in by the flimsy reasons he has for pushing her away. The scene is there for her to be able to slap those “glass cutting” cheekbones, and not much more.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy of the film, however, is the final scene between Knightley and Cumberbatch. To set the stage, Turing has been convicted of indecency for being a homosexual. Knightley’s character, Joan, visits Turing to rally him after his conviction. Considering the first ¾ of the movie, where they went through a failed engagement and they seemed like they connected in the only meaningful way, Joan’s visit is surprisingly flat. These two people are in love. Love in a completely nonsexual way that would have completed each other. They have drifted apart since they worked on the Enigma project but none of that past is there in the room with them. It’s devastating considering the rest of the film. Knightley, though I think she is a generally good actress, simply doesn’t pull out any of the emotion we want to see. Cumberbatch pulls out plenty but seems to have completely missed the fact he’s playing to an empty room. He’s not reacting to Knightley at all and “acting in one” is really awful to watch on screen. As with some of his other films, he seems to be in a completely different movie than the rest of his co-stars. Joan gasps at the fact that Turing has been chemically castrated but completely misses a soul crushing moment when Turing cannot even summon the will to do a simple crossword puzzle – which is the very thing that first brought them together. You can call it “stiff upper lip” if you want, but we should still be able to feel the tension in the room, even if nothing is at all is said. A sad miss for both actors.
The Imitation Game is definitely worth a watch, maybe even a second, and it’s definitely worth checking out the material behind the movie. You’re introduced to a fascinating character in history that not many people know about. It’s a solid movie, but just misses the mark of being a truly great one.
7 Cumbercookies out of 10