Release: Friday, November 28, 2014
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.
Recommendation: 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.
Running Time: 114 mins.
Quoted: “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
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