The Imitation Game

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Release: Friday, November 28, 2014

[Theater] 

Written by: Graham Moore

Directed by: Morten Tyldum

The most glorious name in the biz has found a way to take his game to yet another level.

It’s far too easy to get caught up in the minutia of how authentic Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation of one of Britain’s greatest minds comes across, without giving thought to how the rest of the film stacks up around him. Ditto that to making comparisons between this and Ron Howard’s ode to one of the world’s greatest economists, John Forbes Nash. In terms of the latter, things become a bit too surreal during The Imitation Game‘s very own “eureka!” moment, wherein our esteemed Alan Turing is inspired suddenly by a beautiful woman he meets at a bar.

Unfortunately such comparisons call attention to themselves as the vast majority of Tyldum’s creation complies with the unspoken, unwritten code of conduct that a great many directors guiltily adhere to for reasons unknown: your film has to feel safe and History-channel-friendly. Tonally, this is a rather restrained production — the Norwegian director paying respect to a man who hasn’t received due credit; boldly choosing to avoid confronting his viewers with graphic violence or flurries of emotionally distressing scenes. There are broad and narrow brushstrokes applied in shaping Turing’s life, both pre- and post-Bletchley Park and the mix results in a thoroughly enjoyable picture, even if this is paint-by-numbers filming at its finest.

The Imitation Game centers around the years Turing and his limited pool of resources — the other mathematicians he could just barely tolerate (an exaggeration for the film’s purposes; Turing actually got along well with his colleagues in reality) — spend in Bletchley, a private sector within the southern English burrough of Birmingham specifically dedicated to intercepting and deciphering German code during the war. Tyldum offers intercutting scenes to Turing’s school years where he is presented as a rather confident young man, even at that age. Flash forward to the present to find a genius standing like a statue even in the face of almost certain failure — and possible death at the hands of the government should he choose to reveal any information to the outside world.

The end game here boils down to the same objective that these people somehow reached back in 1945: Turing wanted to develop a device to intercept and decipher code at a much faster rate than the current method his “team” had been going on. (Anyone feel up for manually deciphering 150 million million different code combinations?) He upsets more people when his device fails to produce the results expected immediately. Instead it would take some time — and some mediocre threats from his higher-ups, particularly Commander Alistair Denniston (Charles Dance), who, during one of the film’s more amusing opening scenes, is understandably rubbed the wrong way by his latest hire.

The medium of the moving picture affords even the most dutiful director a great deal of freedom to operate, and Tyldum’s project demonstrates that you can tweak factual accuracy for the sake of creating a compelling watch that teases what matters most out of some truly remarkable circumstances. There is a lot of information he chooses not to share, and the things he does choose to share makes Turing out to be brutally lacking in social etiquette when really he was just difficult to figure out. Damn mathematicians being all hoity-toity and whatnot. . .

Cumberbatch is surrounded by a cast that contributes solid efforts, despite every single one of its members feeling like props to support the main character (essentially, I guess that’s what these individuals really were, all cogs in a much larger machine). Even Keira Knightley’s Joan Clarke is not as luminous as she could be, though Knightley’s work cannot be faulted. She’s very good as the only female team member in a time where she was considered out of place, but unfortunately this political point is not at all capitalized on.

Safe but supremely entertaining and an important story to be told, The Imitation Game feels less inspired as it does obligatory but there’s nothing really wrong with that. This is a film that may be begging for Oscar’s attention in February but it does deserve at least some with what Cumberbatch has been able to accomplish here.

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3-5Recommendation: Coupled with a bravura performance from Benedict Cumberbatch and a suitably respectful tone The Imitation Game at times feels like a history lesson, but only in the manner in which that connotation seems positive. History is often violent, and history is often extremely surprising. The problem is how to get non-film students (and non-history majors) to appreciate that. Here’s a film that may fabricate a few things in order to allow its themes to be properly expressed, but the intention is to never skew reality. Rather it is to condense events into a timeline that the people who have ignored Turing for too long should be able to appreciate.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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40 thoughts on “The Imitation Game

  1. Pingback: Ex Machina | digitalshortbread

  2. an excellent review. I was visiting the stage where Cumberbatch first performed and someone pointed out the connection…. fun. Your film reviews are comprehensive and effective. I look forward to seeing more!!

  3. Great work here, Tom. I was curious about this one simply because of my fondness for the incomparable Bennybatch, but I really enjoyed this film as a whole–even Knightley, who usually drives me up the wall! Lol. I agree that it was a bit “safe,” but, hey, if it gets people interested in history while being entertaining, I don’t really have a big problem with that. Really, only one moment made me cringe: the big, cliched “if he has to quit then we all quit, too” moment. Ugh. Why are movies still doing that? Oh well…

    • Well hello there friend, yes I have similarly taken a few moments away from the blog due to information overload! Hahah. I think I’m slowly recovering.

      I enjoyed ‘The Imitation Game’ a lot. I think I enjoy it more now looking back on it but I def still have some issues with the way it was prettied up a bit. Still, as you say it doesn’t in any real way harm the film and I think only the most nit-picky of us are going to be noticing stuff like that anyway! Teehee! Benedict was awesome, as per usual and the whole cast really delivered. Feel ya on that one moment; it wasn’t a weak point for me but I suppose I have others that you do not. 🙂

      Now, time to catch up on your comments and your blog as well. Be on the look0out for an email response later, too. I have a potentially really cool idea for a blog collaboration between me you and a couple of others if they should be interested.

      • Blog collaboration idea?! But of COURSE I’m interested! Can’t wait to hear the deets! 😀

        Good to chat again, my friend! Missed you and all this DSB awesomeness!

        • Yes, you as well. Dec/Jan is always a hectic time for everybody! So much stuff going on. Sorry I couldn’t get anything in for Resolutions. That’s such a cool blog idea. I’ll be sure to pitch in something later in this year for SSS. 😀

  4. Nice write up mate. Gonna go see this on Monday. I’ve honestly no idea who this Benedict bloke is but I keep hearing good things about this flick. And this is another. Briiiing on Mooonday!!!

    • Hey what’s up man! Thanks, and wow man you’ve managed to remain Benedict Cumberbatch-free up until now? That’s awesome. You’ll have a great introduction to him here.

    • Thanks friend, Benny is excellent here and I know you and Cara are both huge fans. This thing is really making me want to go and check out Sherlock now! Can you believe I still haven’t watched that show?!

  5. Pingback: TBT: Saving Private Ryan (1998) | digitalshortbread

  6. Pretty strong movie, although it doesn’t last that long in the memory. Cumberbatch is excellent though as you say and Knightley puts in one of her strongest turns. Lovely read Tom my man.

    • You know what? That’s an extremely concise way of putting it man. I’d have to agree wholeheartedly on that. It most certainly doesn’t remain that memorable, though Cumberbatch does. Knightley also surprised with her depth. I’m liking her more and more with each production she’s signing up for.

  7. “boldly choosing to avoid confronting his viewers with graphic violence or flurries of emotionally distressing scenes”

    Or how about anything other than a murmur of his sexuality? I thought brushing over that was far more surprising than the lack of violence.

    • I honestly don’t think the film skirted around that issue as much as some people think. The story was essentially dedicated to this work he did, and in flashback form we see him as a young lad getting to know some people in school. The suggestions were definitely there, but of course yeah. . .there was nothing really visually to actually confirm our suspicions he was closeted. I personally think the fact Tyldum hid any scenes of intimacy enhanced the fact Alan Turing was holding back all these secrets. Imagine the weight of all that resting on your shoulders. Just, crazy. What a poor man.

  8. I really enjoyed The Imitation Game, and I would wholeheartedly agree that it takes such a safe tone. I felt that way throughout the film – it just doesn’t push limits like you would expect it would. And I also found out how much of the real-life Turing they twisted in order to give us a movie. I think I’m OK with it, because it made for an interesting film, but I would have been curious to see a movie about maybe the more REAL guy I know about now. Very good review, Tom!

    • And a very excellent comment, Kristen! 😉 I am down with all those points you bring up. I too was expecting something a bit. . .edgier. But having this safe, respectful, and at-a-distance kind of tone and approach to the subject wasn’t exactly harmful. It just limited I think the dramatic heft of this thing. I was also reading up on how they had changed a lot of Turing’s real persona in order to make this work. In fact, that’s what I got caught up in so much with as I wrote this review. I would have had this thing up prob 2-3 days sooner if I could make up my mind as to what to include about that and what to leave out! Haha.

      #writerproblems

      • I totally get that, Tom! I heard that they really changed a lot about the kind of person Turing was, including the information behind how the medication he was given affected his motor skills. #toteswriterproblemsyo

        • Yeah, for sure there were some creative liberties. It didn’t bother me too much, esp the medication he took. That part was gut-wrenching regardless of how exaggerated the effects may have been in the film. Sounds like we are pretty eye-to-eye on the way this one went. That’s always nice. 🙂 🙂

          • What I’ve been hearing now is that Turing never even committed suicide. I think that’s what bothers me most now, because it seems like a huge point near the end of the film was misrepresented, if that’s the case.

            But yes, I am with you very much on this one! Totally agree with ya, Tom! 🙂

  9. I’m with Mark Warker. I feel the same way about the vast majority of Oscar-nominated films. They all look so boring and dull to me. I’m interested in Selma…and of course loved the likes of Birdman and Whiplash, but this, The Wild, and Foxcatcher all look a bit slow. And by-the-numbers…

    • Old Oscar only accepts the Snootiest of Entries. The Imitation Game sort of plays into the blueprint that that panel of Snooties really prefers; it’s safe in its tone and doesn’t portray extremism on either spectrum — either his personal life or what he did for a “living.” What this film does best (hehe I accidentally typed an ‘r’ in there, so it said ‘brest’ at first) is establish atmosphere and showcase Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting talent. He’s extraordinary. I’d argue he’s the only reason to see this.

      As for those others you listed, I’d generally agree; though ‘Foxcatcher’ rises above it’s somewhat routine plot structure with incredible performances, and it’s so damn bleak it’s hard to fathom. Not everyone’s bag though, for sure. It is a very slow movie. The slowest of all you listed. ‘Wild’ and ‘The Imitation Game’ move rather fluidly given their enjoyable stories and unique settings. If you have time for just one, I would check out ‘Foxcatcher’ just to see Steve Carell.

    • It was quite compelling. I enjoyed it. Wished it deviated from its safe blueprint a bit more but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with how Tyldum approached this interesting subject. 🙂

  10. Cumberbatch and Knightley were very good here. The rest of the movie is just fine, too, although it could have been less by-the-numbers I feel. Good review.

    • Good on ya man, yeah no real rush for this. Although Benny is pretty damn fun to watch, but that’s what you’re really paying to see here anyway, right?! 😉

  11. The Batch! That dude is everywhere!

    Fantastic review Tom. I think I may go see this film tomorrow. I’m like Mark, I’ve had a hard time getting excited about this one. But the cast is intriguing and your review has me interested. Thanks man.

    • Cheers! I recommend seeing it, for after all Alan Turing deserves to be known on a deeper level, a level this film provides, by as many people as possible. It’s crazy to me I had no idea who this was prior to hearing about this project. Sometimes I feel embarrassed writing about these things have such little knowledge about something so important. Lol!

      Hope you enjoy Keith.

  12. Nice review! Everyone is in agreement that Cumberbatch gives a great performance. Some like the film and others didn’t. I suspect when I get around to watching it, I will love it for history’s sake. 🙂

    • Thanks Cindy. Cumberbatch is definitely the big reason to see it. Historically-speaking there’s some things here that Tyldum def messes around with but I didn’t A) know about them until I did some reading up on it after and B ) think they really hurt the film. If you’re into history you might notice these issues more, though. It’s a solid film all the same.

      Thank you for your comments as always.

  13. For some reason I just can’t muster the enthusiasm for this film but I keep hearing good stuff. This is yet more praise that probably shouldn’t overlook. Good review Mucker! 😉

    • I know how you feel Marker. (Oh, that’s a new one.)

      It might explain why I had just. . .a nightmare of a time trying to write this review! Hahah. Couldn’t get inspired. I liked it well enough, but nothing seemed to really jump out at me. Maybe that’s just how it goes sometimes.

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