Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech with Charles Dance and Mark Strong
Plot: An uptight mathematician, Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) is hired as a part of an elite team to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code, but his introverted personality stands in the way of accomplishing his goals.
At one point in the movie, Benedict Cumberbatch’s world-weary and exhausted depiction of Alan Turing turns to the Detective on the other side of the interrogation room and asks him to judge him. Is he a hero? A criminal? A person? A machine? Alan Turing never comes across as the hero figure. His passion for defeating the Enigma machine is not driven by saving the world and ending the war, but out of a natural curiosity for puzzles. He respects the Enigma machine, treating it like a worthy foe and his best friend is a computer, named after a memory. While over the course of the film, the character thaws and begins to show vague signs of humanity, few would go as far as calling him a heroic character. However, as Keira Knightley’s Joan Clarke lists off his achievements in an emotional monologue, followed by the factoids that seem mandatory for any true story end credits, it is impossible to deny the sacrifices made and lives saved, by Alan Turing. This is Imitation Game’s biggest strength. This is a story that needs to be told.
Its second biggest strength is, of course, Benedict Cumberbatch. The man has been patrolling the side-lines of greatness for some time now, never quite breaking into ‘Flavour of the Year’ limelight. He has brought us the two greatest bad guys of 2013, become one of the biggest names bandied around in the television world and has been the source of many excited chatter amongst the film critic community, but The Imitation Game is the first film that could give him that OSCAR or BAFTA he deserves. Perhaps this makes it fitting that Cumberbatch’s Turing comes across as an amalgamation of his previous roles. We see the eccentricity and ingenuity of Sherlock, the attention to true story detail of The Fifth Estate and the introverted brilliance of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Benedict Cumberbatch performs here with the experience and precision of an actor that knows what he is doing. Perhaps this might hurt him when the OSCAR winner is announced, because it always comes so naturally to the actor, he never feels as though he is pushing himself as much as Jake Gyllenhaal grappling with the darkness of reality or going too far out of his comfort zone like Eddie Redmayne in ‘The Theory of Everything’. However, none can deny the impressive display Cumberbatch has, easily grabbing the audience’s attention undeniably, whenever the script gives him the perfect material. The supporting cast stand back and let him do his thing, turning in good, yet stock performances. Charles Dance does his best Charles Dance impression and Mark Strong is Mark Strong. Nothing to complain about, but it diverts all the attention squarely on Cumberbatch. Well, perhaps not squarely, as Keira Knightley has a few good tricks up her sleeve. It is very stock Knightley material: a period piece, asking her to play that likeable, British heroine, living in a man’s world. But while she performs Joan with a stiff upper lip, as she often does, it is the smaller emotions that flicker behind her eyes that impresses. I wouldn’t call myself a Knightley convert just yet, but there is more to the actress that I originally thought. Her scenes with Cumberbatch are great, especially one involving the grandest romantic gesture one would ever expect from Turing.
The Imitation Game doesn’t have its eyes set entirely on the past however. As the second half of the movie comes around, one wouldn’t be criticised for saying that ‘codes’ are an allegory for Turing’s sexual orientation. Sometimes, it feels like the writers are slapping us on the wrist for hanging onto these anti-homosexual laws for so long, but for the most part, it works given the topical context. Morals aside, it makes for great story-telling. It is no wonder actors keep turning to gay roles (this isn’t the first time Cumberbatch has played a homosexual), because the repressed sexuality and constant secrecy is just so damn interesting. Turing has been oppressed for so long, bullied for his eccentric mannerisms and lack of social skills, that he shuts himself off from the world, cutting off all ties with his sexual agenda. The epilogue is a tragic one, as this great hero – and yes, I have settled on the term, hero – slips away into misery. This brings me back to my original point. It is about time Turing got the celebration he deserved.
Final Verdict: Cumberbatch amazes with a gripping portrayal of a British hero, telling an important story of our past and discussing modern homosexuality while it is at it.