Now playing at an indie art house (and some multiplexes) near me:
THE IMITATION GAME
(Dir. Morten Tyldum, 2014)
(Dir. Morten Tyldum, 2014)
This historical biopic is the perfect storm of a holiday season prestige picture.
It’s got the ‘true story of a hero who triumphed against all odds’ scenario. It takes place during World War II. In Benedict Cumberbatch, it stars an A-list leading man that people haven’t gotten sick of yet. It’s got Keira Knightley. It’s got a distinguished supporting cast. It’s got a sweeping score by acclaimed composer Alexandre Desplat. It’s being distributed by the Weinstein Company.
Yeah, it’s got Academy Award fodder written all over it.
But wait, for Morten Tyldum’s THE IMITATION GAME, which tells the story of Alan Turing, the mathematician and logician who cracked a German code helping to win WWII, is a much livelier, wittier, and all around more entertaining piece of Oscar bait than just about anything else in the current crop of contenders.
Especially when it’s compared to James Marsh’s bland Stephen Hawking biopic THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, or Bennett Miller’s unengaging FOXCATCHER.
Turing’s tale is told through flashbacks to the late ‘30s through the mid ‘40s from the vantage point of the early ‘50s when the police, in particular Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear), are investigating a suspicious burglary of Turing’s home in Manchester, England.
This is where we first meet Cumberbatch’s Turing, who comes across like a blend of his own Sherlock Holmes, with Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, and Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory in his amusingly heightened arrogance about his superior intelligence.
After Detective Nock sizes Turing up as an “insufferable sod” who may be hiding something, the film flashbacks to 1939 London right as war is being declared on Germany. The 27 year old Turing, then a Cambridge undergraduate in mathematics, is recruited by Britain’s top secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park to be part of a team of the country’s top cryptographers to try to crack the Germans' “Enigma” code.
Turing considers the code “the most difficult problem in the world” and is determined to solve it, not caring about alienating his colleagues, which include Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, and Matthew Beard, or pissing off his superiors, which include Charles Dance as a highly irritated British Commander and Mark Strong as the icy head of MI-6, with his methods.
Through a newspaper crossword puzzle competition, a young woman named Joan Clarke, played pristinely by Keira Knightley comes aboard the project, and goes on to have a close relationship with Turing, despite the fact that he's a homosexual.
The film skip seamlessly skips back and forth from wartime to the investigation of Turing in the '50s (even including some flashbacks within flashbacks of when our protagonist was a school boy), even making space for some WWII footage (maybe its most unnecessary element - I mean, we have the History Channel for that), with a very pleasing pace.
Many have pointed out that this film, which is based on Andrew Hodges' 1992 biography “Alan Turing: The Enigma,” takes a lot of liberties with the facts concerning what really went down at Bletchley Park.
I.e. the real life Turing didn't singlehandedly invent and build the machine that broke the code, he didn't name the machine Christopher after his first lover, the police didn't uncover Turing's homosexuality while investigating him for being a possible Soviet spy, Turing didn't have any contact with the actual Soviet spy John Cairncross (played by Leech) who's depicted in the film as threatening to expose Turing's homosexuality if he blows his cover, and Turing wasn't a cold humorless robot who wouldn't understand an invitation to lunch.
But despite these fabrications, or possibly because of them, the film is a rousing experience with a compelling narrative drive. Graham Moore's elegantly written screenplay makes the biopic formula feel fresh again, and power and passion that Tyldum brings to telling Turing's noble story can be felt in every frame. So much so that its abundance of inaccuracies can be forgiven as conventions created for dramatic effect.
The fine performances by Cumberbatch, Knightley (this sure makes up for LAGGIES), and their fellow thespians are no small part of how well this machine of a movie works as well.
THE IMITATION GAME will undoubtedly and deservedly get major award season action, but don't dismiss it because it so blatantly looks like it was designed just for that. It's a thoroughy engrossing introduction for movie goers to the basics of why Turing is incredibly important to our modern world, but folks who see it should really do a little reading up on the man too.