- Movie Rating -

The Imitation Game (2014)

| January 14, 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch has made his niche as that actor that you like, yet never quite warm up to. There’s a standoffish quality about his screen presence that pushes you away and, although you’re not turned off, you watch him with great curiosity. For a good while during The Imitation Game, I watched him doing the same thing he’s done in almost every other role he’s played – being arrogant and standoffish while his brilliant mind clicks and turns at a rate of speed that is almost completely foreign to those around him. We saw it in Star Trek; we saw it in his role as Julian Asage; we saw it as Smaug; and, of course, we saw it as Sherlock. Yet, in The Imitation Game something else peers through that distant exterior – a measure of admiration and pity. It’s the same role, to be sure, but in playing Alan Turing, the genius mind who cracked the Nazi’s enigma machine and then was crucified by his own government because of his sexual orientation, he earns our sympathy without ever really asking for it.

As The Imitation Game opens, we meet Turing in 1951, after being arrested for sexual misconduct. A sympathetic police officer wants to hear his story, and from there he tells him a tale that he was sworn to take to his grave. Early in the war he was offered a position with a group of other brilliant minds to help crack the Nazi’s best kept secret. They’ve been communicating precise plans that, if deciphered, could bring Hitler’s dream of a thousand year Reich to a premature end. This Enima machine, to the 21st century mind, is really quite simple – Hitler and his Nazi regime have created a crude early form of e-mail. Yet, it is written in code, and Winston Churchill has gathered the best minds in the country for a sort-of Manhattan Project tasked with cracking codes rather than building the bomb.

Turing’s gift for mathematics and codes are essential to the project. His genius is in coming up with a machine that could break the code rather than have a room full of eggheads pouring over code books day and night. He saw the problem in ways that others did not, but that doesn’t mean he was a joy to work with. Turing is not a lovable man. He has been fitted by nature with a genius mind, yet has a social anxiety so severe that when he is hired to work with a team he suggests that they all be fired because he can work faster without them. He’s difficult, arrogant, stand-offish, self-satisfied and kind of jerk. In that way he’s sort of a cross between John Forbes Nash and Sheldon Cooper, a man satisfied with his own abilities who dismisses those beneath him. Yet, underneath his rough exterior nurses the fragments of a broken heart.

Turing was a homosexual at a time when such a thing was illegal in England and carried severe consequences (when prosecuted he chose chemical castration as an alternative to two years in prison). The film is told in flashback as we meet Turing after the war, arrested and questioned about a dalliance with a male prostitute. He tells his story at the risk of his own future beginning when he was a boy who fell in love with a classmate named Christopher. It was a union that ended in tragedy, yet Turing held it in his heart forever after – even giving his former love’s name to his machine. Although I didn’t immediately catch on, what Turing created was the crude beginnings of computer technology.

The Imitation Game is a tricky story to tell. Director Morten Tyldum has to juggle both the Enigma story and Turing own personal story as well. He meshes the two beautifully into a story that ends in both triumph and tragedy. Cumberbatch gains our sympathy but he never loses sight of Turing’s personal shortcomings. He’s a difficult man, but in the end you come around to appreciating his minor breaks in opening up his personality. That comes mainly through his association with the group’s sole female contributor, Jane Cooke (Keira Knightly) who had an gift for code-breaking that rivaled Turing’s, but was sidelined because of her gender. It is with Cooke, that Turing’s rough exterior begins to break.

The Imitation Game is one of those miracle films that could have gone wrong in a dozen different ways. Yet with good writing, and a brilliantly layered performance by Benedict Cumberbatch who gives the year’s best performance, the movie finds its heart as well as its historical urgency. This is one of the best films of the year.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2014) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, Uncategorized, War