You may not have heard of English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, but in the wake of the triumphant and tragic, The Imitation Game, you’ll be ravenous to know more. The Enigma code shrouded Nazi Germany’s movements throughout World Two. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sponsored a top-secret group at the Bletchley Park School for government code and cypher to attempt to crack the code and win the war. Turing, played beautifully by Benedict Cumberbatch, a pioneer of computer science and his team featuring Joan Clarke (Keira Knightly) and Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) created a machine to crack the code.
The Imitation Game is not merely about the little known heroics of a select group of geniuses that were able to curb the outcome of the war; it’s about the infuriating government sponsored barbarity that befell the architect behind their heroics. Director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) is burdened with attempting to honour Turing and his collaborators and their unfathomable task and the moral and ethical mine fields that they faced. The focus though is squarely on the Turing and his grave future. Tyldum juggles the time periods by unpacking their secrets in parallel. Screenwriter Graham Moore begins the film with a break in at Turing’s home and Rory Kinnear’s Detective Robert Nock getting curious about why a middle aged scientist would not report that his house had been broken into. Shortly thereafter, we’re back in time to Charles Dance’s Commander Denniston (who is essentially Game of Thrones' Tywin Lannister in the U.K army) recruiting for Bletchley as the now renowned, and grating Turing makes the case that he's the key to their success. And we also go back to Alan's formative boring school years and see how his oddness garnered torment. Mr. Tyldum is able to conjure a spiritual synergy between the passage of time (and the jumps to different periods) that locks you into the emotional trajectory of the film.
Ms. Knightly has made a run of films, especially those under the direction of Joe Wright, that see her playing the most infuriating and punchable characters. It's a pleasure to see her get an opportunity to play someone as fantastic as Joan Clarke. Knightly conveys the warmth and unassuming genius effortlessly. Mark Strong is just spectacular as the shady MI6 agent Stewart Menzies. He’s that kind of calculating and suave spy that’s three moves ahead of everyone in the game. Mr. Goode's Hugh Alexander is a cad who just happens to be devilishly charming and good looking. He begins as someone who’s infuriated with Turing's bulldozer sensitivity and decided lack of social skills, but he's man enough to realise that he's in the presence of an amazing mind. Goode is able to straddle charm and intensity so effortlessly; Alexander is yet another great performance from the underrated character actor. Allen Leech sheds the shackles of Downton Abbey's glorified soap opera with subtle and strong turn as John Cairncross. Mr. Tyldum superb performance direction reflects beautifully in Alex Lawther's deft and devastating portrayal of young Turing; one of the most heartbreaking moments of the film rests on his shoulders and he carries it like Atlas.
Mr. Cumberbatch is simply sublime playing Turing’s alienating and grating, and yet wonderful, mathematical mind. He so casually and obliviously eviscerates people's capability; something we've seen him do time and again as Sherlock Holmes. However the highlight of his performance is watching him break new ground and revealing the torture of hiding his sexual orientation in a time that it was a crime and later in the character's shameful fate.
The Imitation Game is a story that needed to be told; the highest compliment I can give Mr. Tyldum, Mr. Cumberbatch, Mr. Moore and their collaborators is that they've honoured Alan Turing.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Graham Moore based on Andrew Hodges’ book "Alan Turing: The Enigma"
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong,