WRITTEN REVIEW – The Imitation Game (2014)
The Imitation Game
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Graham Moore
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong & Rory Kinnear
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Release Date: November 14th 2014
History often perceives wars as being fought almost exclusively on the battlefield. That the conflict comes from leaders, both political and military, sending young souls headlong into battle, armed with firearms and vigor. It’s often thought to be like that because that’s the more “exciting” version of war, where there’s lot of action, heroism and drama. However, sometimes the most brutal wars can be fought internally and in secrecy. Where said battles are planned and directed in small huts in the countryside by those who never fire a shot. When focusing on this side of World War 2 you need to have a compelling character in the centre of it all and there are few that are more compelling than Alan Turing, the man who cracked the german code “Enigma” and is often credited as being one of the biggest contributors to the Allied Forces winning the war. But he was a man with secrets, and those secrets, ultimately, cost him his life. It’s not a happy story, but it’s one ‘The Imitation Game‘ tells beautifully, bringing us possibly the best British film of the year.
‘The Imitation Game‘ is written by Graham Moore, making his feature film debut and follows three narrative strands in the life of Alan Turing (Cumberbatch). The first and main strand has Turing based at Bletchley Park throughout World War 2 where he and a small group of scholars and mathematicians are tasked with breaking “Enigma”; a device that Germany uses to hide their communications from their enemies. The second shows what happened to Turing shortly after the war when he is brought into questioning by the police for suspected gross-indecency and the third strand follows Turing during his schooldays where he first discovered codes as a means of communication with his school friend Christopher.
Despite being a first-time screenwriter, Graham Moore handles these very-different story-lines deftly and manages to weave an incredibly engaging, multi-faceted plots which help to compliment each other. This is chiefly helped by Oscar-calibre editing by William Goldenberg (the editor of ‘Zero Dark Thirty‘ and ‘Argo‘, the latter of which netted him an Academy Award) who splices in these clips to not only be relevant but to parcel out information to the viewer at a rate which helps give each segment time to breath and relevance in the moment. Despite ‘The Imitation Game‘ taking place in a handful of locations with very little warfare being shown on screen (through poorly done CGI sequences, so maybe it’s best they’re not seen much) the film is frequently exciting and tense, even if you know the ending.
However, as stated before, if you want to tell a story with a limited scope such as this, you need a compelling central lead and ‘The Imitation Game‘ has that with Alan Turing played phenomenally well by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch has played arrogant, socially-awkward geniuses before (‘Sherlock‘ & ‘The Fifth Estate‘), but coupled with the amazing screenplay is able to imbue Turing with an incredible level of warmth and humanity when the scene requires it. There is one sequence when Turing, eager to make friends but not having the basic-grasp on how to go about it, gives his work colleges an apple and attempts to tell a joke. It’s a scene that ultimately adds nothing to the plot of the movie and is played for comedy, but it’s not the movie laughing AT Turing. It’s to try and show that he actively wants to interact with people and show affection, but that he struggles to understand social-norms.
Cumberbatch almost disappears into the role, thanks to incorporating Turing’s stammer, a slightly hunched physicality and the changes to his body towards the end as he nears his final days. It’s possibly the best performance of his already incredibly career and while it’s too soon to say whether or not he’ll take home an Oscar, it’s a safe bet to say he’ll be nominated.
The supporting cast are also very strong, with Keira Knightley playing Turing’s romantic interest and best friend Joan Clarke. Those looking for historical-perfection in her casting may cry foul as Clarke is known to have been “plain” in real life, but Knightley brings a lot to the role of someone who, like Turing, finds it difficult to be taken seriously in the 1940s because of who she is. In her first scene she’s mistaken for a receptionist as opposed to someone who has applied to work as a cryptographer which immediately places this bright individual far under the glass ceiling. Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, Matthew Goode and Charles Dance also help to round-out a great, ensemble cast, though it would be rimess of me to ignore Alex Lawther who plays Turing during the childhood segments. It’s one of the best child performances I’ve seen in a long time and when it comes to one particular scene where the focus is entirely on his reaction to a traumatic event, Lawther truly rises to the occasion.
If there’s one thing the UK media industry knows how to do, it’s historical productions. So naturally when it comes to putting the audience in World War 2, ‘The Imitation Game‘ does a brilliant job. Whether it’s scenes of Joan Clarke riding her bicycle through a London that had been blitzed the previous night, to meetings held in the Bletchley Park tearoom with advertisements relevant to the time-period scattered around (including 1940s currency being put on the menus which, believe it or not, is frequently forgotten about in film productions), ‘The Imitation Game‘ doesn’t miss a step in trying to immerse the viewers in the wartime era. The score by Alexandre Desplat brings out his strengths as a composer as Desplat’s mastery of utilising strings and percussion make him brilliant at mood-setting and tension-building with action-lite narratives. The fact that he can produce a brilliant, bombastic score for ‘Godzilla‘ earlier this year and yet create a score for ‘The Imitation Game‘ which is the polar-opposite in pretty much every facet, helps to demonstrate why he’s one of the best composers working today.
While the movie is never boring for its 114 minute runtime, it feels like it could have maybe benefited from a couple of additional scenes, particularly towards the end involving the conflict between Turing and one of his work-colleagues whose brother was killed on a U-boat as well as delving deeper into Turing’s final days. The reality of what happens to Turing isn’t pretty but is incredibly important to portray so it’s a shame that ‘The Imitation Game‘ does gloss over it slightly. The movie might convince viewers to read-up and research Turing afterwards to learn more about him and his associates which could be considered praise, but in terms of a whole-story, a couple of corners seem to have been cut. Though since the movie is such a tightly focused and perfectly paced experience, such scenes could have caused the movie to drag. It’s a tough-call, but I would love to see if there’s an extended-cut out there somewhere.
‘The Imitation Game‘ had the odds in its favour from the beginning by basing itself on a fascinating and incredible individual. Thankfully, the story was ALSO placed in the hands of incredible film-makers, a stellar cast and a brilliant production team. But it’s also a movie with an incredibly strong emotional core and brings to light one of the biggest personal injustices of the 20th century; the downfall of Alan Turing. Seeing him in his final days is devastating but it’s something that needs to be known about. Alan Turing was one of the most influential and important individuals of the past century, but the ultimate irony is that he was condemned because his indisputable contributions to World War 2 were so secretive in nature that nobody could know the impact he made for a long time. Hopefully ‘The Imitation Game‘ will bring to light his contributions and while he certainly deserved better than the posthumous pardon he was given a few years ago, it’s hard to argue that ‘The Imitation Game‘ isn’t a movie worthy of his legacy.
I give ‘The Imitation Game‘ 4 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 22nd Nov 14