Imitation Game, The (2014)

Review #1,130

Director:  Morten Tyldum
Cast:   Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong
Plot:  During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code with help from fellow mathematicians.

Genre:  Biography / Drama / Thriller
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Adapted Screenplay.  Nom. for 7 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Original Score.
Runtime:  114min
Rating:  NC16 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.

“I know it's not ordinary.  But who ever loved ordinary?”

If not for Boyhood (2014) or Birdman (2014), The Imitation Game might have been a solid frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar.  The buzz is still there, not least because of Benedict Cumberbatch's popularity, but as a truly significant piece of cinema it is not.  It does a lot of things right though, perhaps the best of the bunch is the film's commitment to not only tell an important WWII story, but also give us one of this year's more intriguing characters. 

I have never heard of Alan Turing, but I'm delighted to learn about this brilliant man who almost single-handedly won the war for the Allies by cracking Enigma, the impossible-to-decode Nazi communication system.  There's so much more back story about Turing that we will learn too, who was also a closeted homosexual.  The Imitation Game accounts with emotional depth both Turing's private life, and his heroic exploits building a machine to demystify Enigma. 

The non-linear style of storytelling lets us piece the key parts of his life together.  There is never any confusion, but while it may be a bit exaggerating to say that we have a complete picture of Turing's fascinating life, at least this is a more satisfying and less conventional biopic than its direct Oscar competitor The Theory of Everything (2014), starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. 

Cumberbatch delivers his best performance to date as Turing, channeling his character's insecurities and idiosyncrasies with ease.  As we see his exciting career play out in the next few decades, I think many will fall back on The Imitation Game as his dramatic screen breakthrough, an affirmation that Cumberbatch can deliver emotionally-searing performances.

Directed by Morten Tyldum, who made the rather impressive Norwegian thriller Headhunters (2011), The Imitation Game is in that breed of prestige British biopics that the Oscars can't ignore.  Not since The King's Speech (2011) has such films paid off handsomely.  Can Tyldum's film do the impossible? 

Well, I’m not optimistic.  But at least we can revel in this excellent biopic that entertains like a spy thriller, yet possessing enough dramatic qualities to afford us a warm connection to this great, misjudged man.

Verdict:  Cumberbatch delivers his best performance to date in this solid thriller-esque WWII biopic on Alan Turing.


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