Rating: 9 out of 10
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing
Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke
Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander
Mark Strong as Stewart Menzies
Allen Leech as John Cairncross
Tuppence Middleton as Helen
Rory Kinnear as Nock
Steven Waddington as Supt Smith
Tom Goodman-Hill as Sergeant Staehl
Matthew Beard as Peter Hilton
Directed by Morten Tyldum
After graduating from Cambridge, mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is recruited into a top secret government project with the sole purpose of decoding the German’s unbreakable Enigma code. Along with a team of academics, none who want anything to do with Alan or the machine he’s obsessed with building, they work diligently to crack the code, having less than 18 hours before it resets and they have to start again from scratch.
As good as “The Imitation Game” is, this is a rough year for a British historical drama like it, because it’s coming out shortly after the equally excellent “The Theory of Everything.” I enjoy both movies so much that I’ve had such a hard time deciding which one I like more, because they’re so similar in terms of their main characters and tone, but also the quality of the filmmaking across the board.
In this case, it merges historical drama with spy thriller in telling its story of a brilliant but flawed genius and the obstacles he must overcome in his journey to solve a great problem. If you go into the movie thinking you know exactly what to expect, you’re likely to be surprised by the way the story unfolds like the layers of an onion that’s slowly peeled away to get to the core of its themes.
Masterfully directed by Morten Tyldum, the Scandinavian director behind “Headhunters,” it’s a story told in three distinct time periods with the “present day” story taking place in the early ‘50s as a pair of detectives try to determine who broke into the home of Alan Turing, a crime he refuses to report even though nothing was stolen. One of the detectives starts digging into Turing’s past, after learning that he has a military file, which is empty. From there, we cut back to the late ‘30s as Turing is being recruited by a British army commander to join a team of experts to crack the Germans’ Enigma code which has allowed them to communicate orders that have kept them one step ahead of the British military.
From the moment we meet Turing, indelibly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s obvious he doesn’t have the same social graces as the rest of us, maybe because he’s so wrapped up in his own thought process. Under the cover of working at a radio factory, he is put onto a team assembled by the military who have trouble dealing with Turing’s seemingly arrogant demeanor. He’s quite blunt and literal when communicating with others, lacking any attempts at charm. His inability to communicate with others may be what drives him to build a machine that can do all the calculations necessary to crack the code even though everyone doubts it will work.
Comparisons certainly can be made between Turing and Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the equally brilliant Sherlock, but Turing as a man lived with far more tragic undertones, mainly because of the secret he’s forced to keep for his whole life. We’re taken back to Alan’s days in private school where he’s mercilessly bullied by others until he meets Christopher, the one schoolmate who befriends Alan as they share a love for puzzles and secret codes.
One of Turing’s few allies is Keira Knightley’s Joan Clarke, an equally brilliant mathematician who has to contend with the innate sexism of WWII Britain, forced to stay with the base’s secretarial pool while secretly assisting Turing in the evenings. Some of the film’s best scenes are between Cumberbatch and Knightley, as she tries to teach him how to play better with others. This isn’t your typical romantic relationship for reasons we’ll learn as the detective looking into Turing’s past starts to learn his deepest secret.
As much as Cumberbatch’s breathtaking performance as Turing will stick with you, the rest of the cast is just as fantastic from Charles Dance as the military commander constantly butting heads with Turing to Mark Strong as the group’s MI6 liaison and all those working with Turing, including the always great Matthew Goode.
Working from an impeccable script by Graham Moore, Tyldum handles the subject matter in a respectful way without glossing over Turing’s flaws. His entire team does top-notch work, from the cinematography to the editing to Alexandre Desplat’s score that does everything to enhance the emotions in every scene to the highest level. Besides flowing effortlessly between the different time periods, the film sometimes leaves the army base to show how the people of London are living in fear from the German attacks, which gives the film a much bigger scope than simply being a small character piece.
The Bottom Line:
Everything about “The Imitation Game,” from the writing to the acting and direction makes for a riveting and emotional historical piece that bolsters one of the best performances of the year by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The Imitation Game opens in select cities on Friday, November 28.