A remarkable real life event and an interesting lead character set the stage for an enthralling new drama in “The Imitation Game.” Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness) plays prickly mathematician, cryptanalyst Alan Turing, the leader of a group of geniuses who are tasked to break the Nazi’s supposedly uncrackable code generator, the Enigma machine, and help win the war. While the code proves to be a formidable foe, it is Turing’s personal struggles dealing with being a closeted homosexual in an unsupportive society that challenged him long after the war was over.
After being arrested for being gay in 1952 on the charges of “gross indecency” Turing reveals his story to an interrogating officer. It is during the interrogation that Turing reveals how in the midst of World War II, he was charged by the British government with his top-secret, code-breaking task. A feat he takes on by essentially building one of the first kinds of computers. Uncertainty in the plan and Turing’s often-cantankerous attitude toward others make success far more indefinite than anyone would like.
As already evidenced by Sherlock, Cumberbatch is so comfortable playing the smartest guy in the room, I’d be curious to know how high his own IQ is. Getting this performance right is the cornerstone of success for this film and Cumberbatch comes through in a big way. Turing is at once complicated, haunted, needy and often funny. It’s the type of meaty, wide-ranging role that an actor could lose their way in, but Cumberbatch keeps it grounded. Not allowing himself to get bigger than his surroundings. I would be more than a little amazed if he were not nominated for an Oscar.
It would be easy to point to Cumberbatch’s incredible performance as the primary standout element of the film. But the film’s directing, writing, not to mention the other performances cannot be diminished. Norwegian director, Morten Tyldum, lays everything out crisply, giving it a classic feel, but also knows how to ramp up the energy. Tyldum made a scene where you’re basically watching to see if this big, clunky machine will work, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen all year.
Graham Moore’s screenplay (based on the book by Andrew Hodges) is expertly structured. Weaving in stories from three different timelines (the two mentioned early and one of Turing at 15-years-old) and landing their respective physical or emotional climaxes in a way that was fulfilling individually and as a whole. The story also brings up issues like scandal, sexism and especially homophobia in a meaningful, non-pandering way. In our current, more accepting society, one can forget the kinds of struggles some people had to endure. Frankly, I didn’t even remember it was even illegal to be gay at one point. “Imitation Game” presents homophobia in a way that’s not salacious, but still kind of shocking. Finally, the rest of the cast, particularly Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode (Stoker) and Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes) manage to have their moments even if their roles are nearly as showy as the lead.
It seems odd to be surprised by this, but “The Imitation Game” does not employ any tricks to find its success. It has no need for giant effects or flashy editing (not demeaning those types of movies, I like them too, just making the comparison). “The Imitation Game” is simply an incredible story, well acted and superbly crafted. It is, by definition, just a good movie.
By Adrian Vina
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.