Review: The Imitation Game (2014)

The Imitation Game


Morten Tyldum
Graham Moore (Book: Andrew Hodges)
114 min.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Waddington, Alex Lawther, Jack Tarlton, Ilan Goodman, Jack Bannon, Tuppence Middleton
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking

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Source Material

Modern computing would be nowhere without the great mathematician Alan Turing, but his once-classified World War II achievement helped turn the tide of World War II and makes for a fitting, if sometimes disappointing adaptation of his life. The Imitation Game tries too hard to delicately touch on the subject of Turing’s homosexuality while ratcheting up the thrill of one of the war’s most significant accomplishments.

Four periods of history make up Morten Tyldum’s first mainstream feature film. The earliest depicts Turing (Alex Lawther) as a self-conscious, miserable private school student picked on by his bigger, more outgoing classmates. This story surrounds the relationship he had with Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon) that helped him come to terms with his sexuality. The latest puts Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) into the period after he was outed by a jaded ex-lover and had been convicted and sentenced to chemical castration. The third took place a few years after his team’s work during World War II during an investigation attempting to catch him in some kind of illicit activity.

The bulk of the film takes place in the waning years of World War II. Desperate to crack the German Enigma Code, the British military secretly interviews mathematicians and scientists in hopes of finding someone who can help find the cypher. As he begins alienating his team and attempting to track down qualified assistants, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery, including his interpersonal relationships as well as his now-legendary work.

There are plenty of historical inaccuracies in the film, most notably the flavor elements that were added to goose up the excitement, including a Russian spy, a debilitating chemical “remedy” (not as physically inhibiting as depicted), and a lead character whose personality was far different from that depicted. While none of these completely derail the story as it unfolds, they do call into question the Oscar-winning screenplay by Graham Moore who seemed to want to shift the focus of the film away from Turing’s horrific treatment by the government that he saved once they discovered his homosexuality and turn this into some World War II thriller.

To an extent, that works. The film has some very compelling and punctuating moments, but that’s thanks to Tyldum’s skilled hand as a director and not Moore’s ability to craft a credible screenplay. Cumberbatch delivers his lines with great relish, but somewhere beneath his personality, there’s a lack of humanity that only comes out in the film’s final moments.

Yet, it’s Keira Knightley who brings the film its heart, soul and down-to-earth appeal. Knightley plays Joan Clarke, the woman who would act as Turing’s wife for a number of years to keep the government from uncovering his subdued homosexuality. She helps guide the character as written from a boorish, aggressive know-it-all to a compassionate, well-liked human being. It’s a bit surprising to see someone like Knightley schooling Cumberbatch who is typically a far better performer.

The Imitation Game fails the audience it’s supposed to help. The gay community has struggled to find credible, populist dramas to put forward the idea that they are capable of love and not deserving of the scorn they’ve shouldered for centuries. Homosexuals were targeted in Nazi Germany along with the Jews, but that is never referenced in the film. This is a film that tones down the gay aspects to avoid offending Middle America viewers who weren’t likely to set foot in the theater to watch it anyway. While as a war-set film, it succeeds admirably, as a piece of movement-supporting cinema, it is entirely inadequate.

Review Written

April 16, 2015

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