Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightely, Matthew Goode
Directed by: Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”)
Written by: Graham Moore (debut)
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) was hired to decrypt German messages thought to be unbreakable called Enigma. As his team of analysts fights him along the way, Turing carries out the construction of a machine that can theoretically crack any code. “The Imitation Game” tells the story of Turing and his team and their tireless work to help the allied forces win WWII.
“The Imitation Game” serves, first and foremost, as a showcase for Cumberbatch who is absolutely fantastic as Turing. Anyone who watches his role as Sherlock Holmes on the BBC show “Sherlock” will find the more “Asperger’s” type personality quirks familiar, yet Cumberbatch also plays Turing with an outstandingly unique speech pattern and sense of wanting to be the smartest person in the room. Consider him a lock for a Best Actor nomination at the upcoming Academy Awards. The performance slightly overshadows that of his female counterpart Joan Clarke played by Keira Knightley, who is good in her own right, but never quite measures up to the powerhouse performance of Cumberbatch.
One thing that “The Imitation Game” has going for it is the element of having a lesser known, yet extremely intriguing story set in the World War II landscape. As the details unfurl, it is often mesmerizing to see Turing and his team uncover new ideas to try and break the unbreakable, all amplified by a fantastic and fitting score from Alexandre Desplat. Turing’s social interactions provide the film with most of its comic relief, mostly at the expense of Turing being off-putting, often times unknowingly. It is also extremely satisfying to watch Turing go up against foes and equal minds, both amongst his team and with his higher ups (particularly with a very Tywin Lannistery Charles Dance and a super slick Mark Strong).
If “The Imitation Game” has any weak points, it is in Graham Moore’s script. The first half of the film, especially with the introduction to many of the characters, often come off as clunky and the films framing device and flashbacks don’t add much to the end result. Perhaps most troublesome is the way that Turing’s homosexuality is dealt with. Though it is likely that Moore and director Morten Tyldum wanted Turing’s sexual orientation to be just a part of who he was – rather than the entire story itself – the final moments of the film as well as some post-credits text hint towards some darker moments and turmoil in Turing’s life that is absent from the rest of the film. Moore and Tyldum obviously wanted this area of Turing’s life and his abominable treatment in the wake of his homosexuality to be important to the viewer. It’s a shame that it isn’t explored further and is instead mostly treated like an afterthought.
Despite some speed bumps along the way, “The Imitation Game” is an often-fascinating study into a slice of history that remained a secret for three decades. Cumberbatch is superb and carries this film with ease and a surprising amount of charm for what can be a curt character. We can only hope that the film industry can continue to unearth gems of untold stories to share with eager moviegoers.