I’ve always found it fascinating that governments all around the world reveal classified information years and years after certain events happen. The information doesn’t necessarily rewrite history, but it clues us in on how people or events changed the world. When a person is responsible for huge achievements for a nation, the response is wondrous and the public gets to meet a new hero (depending on the information and the side you’re on). Just recently, we learned who the man was who killed Osama Bin-Laden. Now, more people will know the name of the man who helped end WWII and created a precursor to the first computer.
During World War II, the Nazi’s used an Enigma Machine to encrypt all of their messages, making sure that the Allied Forces wouldn’t be able to understand that orders that they gave over the radio. The Allied Forces recovered one of the machines, but they had no idea how to program it in order to decipher messages. So, MI6 started a program to enlist mathematicians, logicians, and cryptographersin order to crack the code. At the center of the operation was Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), one of Britain’s most brilliant minds and quite an introverted individual. Already, Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) was bothered by Turing, but Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) of MI6 kept him on because of his intellect.
Turing, secretly a homosexual in a time where that was frowned upon, preferred to work alone, but was staffed with the likes of Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech), and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard). Turing went out to seek other brilliant minds and the most brilliant of them came from Joan Clark (Keira Knightley), who had to hurdle obstacles to work with the men. Together, this team set out to create a machine which would decipher the Nazi’s codes, but they were working against the clock and lives were being lost everyday. As if that weren’t enough, a detective (Rory Kinnear) believes Turing to be a Soviet spy and is trying to lock him up.
The Imitation Game is somewhat of an enigma itself, as it possesses quite strong acting elements, but falls somewhat short when it comes to the writing and direction. More than anything, it plays out like a by-the-numbers film about the genius introvert that has to overcome obstacles to achieve something in his life, or the life of another. In this case, we have an extremely introverted genius trying to solve the Enigma Code all by himself, resulting in what could possibly be the end of WWII. There’s a lot of intrigue with this story, but it’s presented oddly and that slows down the overall momentum.
Benedict Cumberbatch easily shines in this role that’s somewhat akin to Sherlock Holmes, but there are certainly some underlying subtleties that really make him standout. Cumberbatch’s Turing makes it clear how unrelatable he is and how isolated he has been, but we also see the passion and joy that he derives from working on his own. He’s a very calculated person and his abruptness makes for some great laughs. Cumberbatch also makes it very clear that Turing was a human, despite anything people would say about his genius-level intellect, or the fact that he was homosexual. The emotion that comes in the latter half of the film is truly impressive, making this a performance that’s easy to get behind.
Keira Knightley is given the task of playing an intelligent woman who can help the allied forces, in a time where women were seen as lesser and less helpful. Her admiration for Turing and ability to fit in so easily with great scientific minds gets you on her side from the get-go and he bubbly personality is instantly likable. She and Cumberbatch share some wonderful scenes, come hell or high water. Matthew Goode’s smug and posh personality makes him a great antagonist to Cumberbatch, but the two’s back-and-forth is quite fun and Goode really knows how to get a hold of the audience. Despite not being around for long, Mark Strong has fun in an MI6 role which exemplifies everything that people love about that secret organization.
The primary focus of the film is cracking the enigma code and how that’s done. We watch Cumberbatch’s character devote countless months to creating a machine that may, or may not work. The added pressure of not getting anywhere with decoding messages and losing soldiers every minute only increases the stakes. Hints of espionage and spies adds some more to this film and while most everything is done well in terms of cracking the code, things could have been sped up a bit. There’s a lot of setup that goes into it, which is fine, but it’s the way in which it’s presented. We get many flashbacks to Turing’s life as a child, first learning about codes, and the flashbacks come and go in an annoying fashion. They’re certainly telling about Turing and how he grew into the man he was, but they’re edited in poorly and don’t fit where they’re placed.
On top of cracking the enigma code, Alan Turing was also homosexual at a time in Britain where being gay was a crime. Keeping this secret is essential to Turing’s work, but director Morten Tyldum tiptoes around the issue with a forgettable sub-plot that’s almost insulting to the film. The flashbacks to Turing first discovering his love for a friend are touching, but that’s about all we get. The end jumps too far forward and plays around with the issue in a manner that doesn’t fit in with the overall feel of the film. Yes, what happened to Turing because of his sexual preference was awful, but we never get to a point where we feel entirely for him. We never get to witness his struggle before it’s too late and there was a missed opportunity to tell Turing’s full story and give us something more to feel about him.
The Imitation Game certainly does some things well and it marks a great performance for Cumberbatch. There’s a lot of awards talk surrounding this movie and that’s left me scratching my head. This film and the performances are fine, but they’re nothing to really rave over. In the hands of a more capable and experienced director, this film could have been totally different and more of what it should have been. There is so much missed in not getting too personal with Turing’s character and it’s quite frustrating because it’s a huge factor in this story, despite not being presented as one. People will enjoy this movie, there’s no doubt about that, and it’s a film that many people will like. For me, it’s just okay and you won’t have to look too far to find a scientific film that’s more emotionally engaging.
The Imitation Game Trailer