The Imitation Game‘s story may be more fascinating than its presentation, but nevertheless it’s a good film. The story of Alan Turing makes for some heartbreaking drama, but the film never becomes overly manipulative or sappy. The performances and the period setting are the film’s strongest points, with the story structure becoming a little bit confusing.
Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a strange and socially inept mathematician hired to help break the German Enigma code during WWII. Considered an impossible task, what may be more impossible for Turing is getting along with the team of mathematicians also working on the project. Led by Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), they shun Alan as he works on a machine to break Enigma, rather than doing it by hand like the rest of them. Things improve when Joan Clark (Kiera Knightley) is brought in by Alan to help them, and she helps bring the team together and focus on making Alan’s machine work. In order to allow the unmarried Joan to continue working, she and Alan become engaged. When it is revealed that Alan is gay, things take a tragic turn as he is isolated from his colleagues and persecuted by the government, despite his groundbreaking work cracking Enigma.
I’m of two minds about the story. On one hand, everything is incredibly clear in how its laid out when the film is dealing with the events during war time. However, we also have these flashbacks of Alan (Alex Lawther) in boarding school with this boy he’s in love with, Christopher (Jack Bannon), and these flashforwards of the investigation by Detective Robert Noch (Rory Kinnear) into what he was doing during the war and how he unintentionally uncovers his homosexuality. Since it’s illegal, the government persecutes him horribly and things turn pretty tragic. The strange thing is, the portion with the detective is started in the beginning of the film. This part doesn’t get interesting until farther into the movie, so at the beginning of the film it sort of detracts from both the war time breaking Enigma part and the boarding school flashback part. Everything lines up at the end more or less, but in the beginning it feels a bit odd.
Though the film wisely doesn’t try to explain the math to us, it does make the stakes very clear. Enigma encodes German messages, but they can’t be decoded without the key, which changes every day. That means the team has less than a day to crack the code before it changes, impossible to do by hand because of the shear volume of calculations. So Turing basically invents the first computer. But the time crunch weighs down on everyone involved. When the machine finally does work (in a brilliantly filmed sequence), Turing realizes they can’t utilize its full potential, because then the Germans will know they’ve cracked the code, and make a new one. This whole part of the story is outlined so clearly, that it makes up for some of the missteps in the flashforwards.
As I said, the performances in this movie are one of the best things about it, the other being the period setting. It’s unfortunate that the costume design in this film wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. The film looks great, and the addition of period footage is interesting as well. The performances are the other aspect to watch for in this movie.
Benedict Cumberbatch is doing his normal tortured genius thing, and the only thing about his performance that is off-putting is how the script makes him seem so unlikable at the beginning. I get he’s socially inept and all, but waiting to make him likable was a strange move in my mind; though this isn’t Cumberbatch’s fault by any means. He is very good, the only thing holding his performance back is the fact that it’s a character he normally plays, with slight variations, but still it’s the genius Cumberbatch persona on display here. He works really well with Kiera Knightley; the scenes these two outcasts have together are truly something. In fact, Knightley is the main humanizing force on almost every character in this movie. Supporting performances by Charles Dance and Mark Strong (that guy’s suits are fantastic) are crucial to the film’s success, and Matthew Goode once again has me wondering why he’s not in more films.
The Imitation Game may have a few flaws, it’s rather unimaginatively shot and the script is a mixed bag, but it tells a really powerful and tragic story, features great performances by Knightley and Cumberbatch, and recreates the time period wonderfully. The biggest problem is the script but that’s also one of the best parts, the war time portions of the story are very clearly written for the most part but the shifts in time are a bit strange and off putting. The Imitation Game is miles away from the other WWII movies this year (Fury, Unbroken) and dare I say it, more inspiring.
“God didn’t win the war. We did.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars