Today we take a look at Alan Turing’s biopic and the recipient of 8 Academy Award nominees, The Imitation Game. Directed by Morten Tyldum, it stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, and Matthew Goode. It is rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.
The Imitation Game follows the real life story of brilliant mathematician Alan Turing and his fight against time and the Nazis as they try to break the unsolveable Enigma Code at Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.
8.0 out of 10
For 110 minutes, The Imitation Game was a fantastic movie. 9.0 or 9.5 out of 10. It was gripping, incredibly well-acted, and unflinching in its portrayal of Alan Turing’s experiences and struggles. For the final four minutes of its 114 running time, it was still gripping and incredibly well-acted, but it lost that truth and faithfulness to Turing’s story, a fact that left me with a really sour taste and the movie with a significantly reduced score.
For those first 110 minutes, I was enthralled. The movie never lost its tension, each segment of Turing’s struggle to break Enigma flanked by menacing real-life clips of fighting and bombing in 1940’s Europe. But The Imitation Game was not solely monotonous tension and idealistic nationalism; it also featured a central narrative of emotional agony. In the past, we see Turing’s ostracism and persecution by his peers and his inherent lack of ability to connect with other people. In the recent past, we see the contempt his peers have for him as they try to break Enigma. And in the present, we see Turing downtrodden and arrested, again facing the persecution of the people that surround him. This fantastic mix of tension and emotion jived together and moved the plot of the film along swiftly. I have a hard time imagining any viewer to be bored by The Imitation Game.
The acting was superb. Benedict Cumberbatch was absolutely phenomenal as the tortured genius Alan Turing, a role he has had some practice for as the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes. His voice inflections, stammering, and hunched-over walk were all incredibly convincing, and Cumberbatch has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor, the Golden Globe for Best Actor, Drama, and I would be incredibly surprised if he is not nominated for the Best Actor Oscar when Oscar nominations come out later this month. Will he win? It’s possible, but there is some stiff competition this year with Michael Keaton in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.
Cumberbatch was really the driving the force in The Imitation Game. Keira Knightly added some comedy and insight into the sexism of the forties while also serving as the only character able to connect with Turing, but besides the interplay between these two and Turing’s inner struggles, The Imitation Game doesn’t have much to offer. But what it does it does exceptionally well and it is sure to be an awards show contender, especially with Harvey Weinstein’s campaigning powers at work.
That is where my review would end if the movie had ended after 110 minutes. The Imitation Game would have gotten a 9.0 out of 10, and it would be one of my favorite movies of the year, if not my favorite movie of the year (As it is, I still really enjoyed the film). But then the ending happened, and they got it so incredibly wrong. Spoilers will follow, but the movie is based on the life of a historical and historic figure, so I suppose they aren’t true spoilers.
After breaking Enigma, Turing returns home and continues to work on developing the first computer, Christopher. He is later arrested for “public indecency”, for attempting to have sex with another man. He is, in essence, arrested for being gay. He is then forced to endure hormone therapy to “chemically castrate” him and “reverse his homosexual predilections”.
In real life, Turing endures this therapy for a year before committing a suicide via a cyanide-laced apple, a rhetorical omen of sorts. He is so persecuted by the very society that he saved through shortening the war and saving 14 million lives and creating the foundations for the modern computer that he ends his life. There is no Disney happy ending, but in reel life (in the movie), the screenwriters attempt to create one. In the film, Turing is visited by Knightley’s character and she supports him and he seems to find some semblance of inner peace. In a sense, he accepts his character, his situation, and what he’s done. His suicide and decent into widespread physical issues brought on by the hormones are reduced to after-credit epilogue fodder.
Had The Imitation Game stayed true to Turing’s story and showed the society’s persecution of the very man who saved them, I could very well be sitting here writing my first 10 out of 10 reviews and forecasting an Oscar sweep. But they messed it up and they messed it up badly. Rumor has it Weinstein thought it would be more appealing to the masses and more likely to win awards, but in my opinion it has had the opposite effect.
The Imitation Game was great, but damn, it could have been a cinematic landmark.
World War II often dominates any historical/historical-fiction entries for the Academy Awards and it’s not hard to see why: it’s a blend of violent yet cerebral battles, there’s a closely shaved right and wrong with no room for dispute. Most of all, its sheer scale automatically ties it with billions of heard and unheard biographies that our writers will be excavating for the next few decades.
The last film that I can think of that made coding riveting is The Social Network which is, in a small way, a twin to this movie. They both grab from a similar bag of tricks, using streamlined visuals and relying on a small circle of skilled actors. Moreover, they’re both handed the problem of making an antisocial, misanthropic genius the audience’s hero for a solid two hours and both are not afraid to show that hero’s ugly side.
But we all know Mr. Cumberbatch has a knack for playing near-mechanical men with a concentrated dose of background, what about our supporting cast? Well, they do very well for themselves too especially since they have to hold their own against their dynamic lead. There aren’t a lot of large roles besides Turing but Keira Knightley pulls off an intelligent yet somewhat vulnerable portrait of Turing’s fiance and colleague, Joan Clarke. She is able to work with Cumberbatch and genuinely portrays the problems of working with an irritable intellect. The supporting cast of Turing’s workers do the same as they’re gradually forced to adhere to his intellect. Every actor here is pretty much brimming with the era as well.
Which brings us to our next point: the sets, clothing and atmosphere are all far up to snuff. In this era where audiences love to pick and chew at small inaccuracies, Imitation is up to the task and keeps its environment small yet accurate. Set pieces and wardrobe can sometimes go unnoticed with historical movies especially with actors like this but they provide a solid backdrop here.