Thursday 25 December 2014

The Imitation Game (2014) - Movie Review

Looks like it’s typecast time again, this time turning our spotlight on Benedict Cumberbatch. He's made a real name for himself in the last few years playing neurotic and narcissistic geniuses both fictional (the titular detective in Sherlock) and non-fictional (Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate). In fact, Cumberbatch is getting so close to absolute overexposure that he might as well be called Rule 63 Jennifer Lawrence at this rate. However, also like Lawrence, his performances in films are pretty much guaranteed to be good even if he isn’t always in the best films (August: Osage County, The Fifth Estate, Star Trek: Into Darkness depending on who you ask) so I’m not in a good enough position to complain about that. What do we get with today’s film? Time to find out: This is The Imitation Game.

The plot: Mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is hired to help the British military crack the Enigma Code that the Nazis use to scramble their radio messages, designing a special machine to do so. As the work he and his team have to do becomes more complex, and certain personal details about Turing himself are on the verge of becoming public, Turing will have to keep more than just his own secrets in order to survive.

Even without highlighting Cumberbatch, the cast here all do an outstanding job: Matthew Goode does well as Turing’s rival and eventually friend Hugh Alexander, whose transition between the two is a lot smoother than in most other films that feature such a turn; Charles Dance makes a decent role out of his admittedly stale part of Cdr. Denniston, showing the kind of authority and presence needed for the role; Mark Strong is very captivating as the shadowy head of MI6 Stewart Menzies; Rory Kinnear shows real conviction as Nock, a detective who investigates Turing years after working on the Enigma code after a supposed robbery; and Keira Knightley does a surprisingly good job interacting with Cumberbatch and even managing to keep toe-to-toe with him at points. I say surprising, because the last film I saw her in was A Dangerous Method, where her annoying Dr. Ruth Westheimer voice made for one of the worse parts of an already dismal watch; thankfully, nowhere near the case here.

Now to actually discuss Cumberbatch in the role and it is here that I officially include my disclaimer about not looking for perfect historical accuracy; I’m judging this film, and every aspect thereupon, on its own merits alone. Cumberbatch infuses his performance with a certain awkwardness that is to be expected from such a role, but it’s different from, say, his portrayal of Sherlock: Where Sherlock was socially awkward because he understand social interaction and the human psyche better in theory than in practice, Turing is socially awkward because he genuinely doesn’t understand social interaction. He has a far better understanding of mathematics, and through that the ideas of computing and artificial intelligence, and uses that as his only basis on which to judge human behaviour.

To show this, we will have scenes of Turing discuss breaking the code of the Enigma machine juxtaposed with him trying to figure out what his colleagues are actually saying, through their own code of regular human speech. Considering Alan Turing (retroactive as it may have been) showed signs of having ASD in real life, this is actually a rather accurate and fitting portrayal of someone with autism trying to get a hang of social interaction; it feels pretty familiar to me, at the very least. Not to say that he never interacts with others socially; it’s just that, when he does, he does it in so matter-of-factly that it could easily come across as either forced or just plain trolling, but Cumberbatch pulls it off like it’s second nature to him. He also does extraordinarily at showing some of the more tragic parts of Alan Turing’s life, particularly when exploring his homosexuality. The ending, *SPOILERS* which shows him after his sentencing for ‘gross indecency’ being physically crippled due to his court-mandated hormonal therapy to help curb his homosexual desires (Way to go, 1950’s(!), is crushing enough just to think about but Cumberbatch makes the result absolutely heart-breaking, especially considering how the real Turing ended up taking his own life.

The overall writing, not just that centred on Turing, is very well-done: The dialogue has that kind of dry wit that I’ve come to love from British films and television and the actors carry it off with just the right amount of venom to make it stick and get some chuckles out of the audience; and as a story, it does a great job at building tension over Turing’s progress with the bomb he constructed to decode Enigma, even considering the historical nature of the story where the events are set in stone. One definite highlight of the film is the moral dilemma Turing and his group find themselves in *SPOILERSAGAIN* when they finally decrypt the Enigma code but know that they have to be careful with how much they can let the enemy know that they know; as a result, they inevitably have to let some Nazi attacks happen to prevent suspicion, permitting a necessary evil for a greater good. Actually, speaking of the Nazi attacks, the CGI shots used for the planes and the bombs they drop might be the only real down point of the film; to put it mildly, it looks rather silly but thankfully there aren’t too many of them to detract from the film in any real way.

All in all, even if you’re going into this without any knowledge about Alan Turing and his accomplishments, this is a definite winner. The outstanding cast, led by a top-of-his-game Cumberbatch, does wonders with the witty and well-crafted script they have been given; how this screenplay ended up on the Black List for as long as it did, I’ll never know.

1 comment:

  1. Some have complained about the structure of the film but again, I don't relate to this criticism.  There was a lot to take in and director Tyldum's deliberate pacing made it all play out quite nicely.