REVIEW: The Imitation Game

8 09 2014

Telluride Film Festival

As if the subject of “The Imitation Game” – a tender British soul misunderstood as an incompetent and bumbling fool – weren’t enough to draw comparisons to “The King’s Speech,” the film seemingly invites the parallel in its opening credits.  It’s only faintly discernible, but audio from none other than King George’s climactic speech at the dawn of World War II plays diegetically in the background.

To those who might recognize the snippet, it serves as a perfect barometer for the ambitions of “The Imitation Game.”  With maybe a dash of brash mathematical genius of “A Beautiful Mind,” Morten Tyldum’s film is very much this year’s “The King’s Speech.”  For those unaware of the construed meaning of 2010’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, that means the film is an engaging and entertaining biopic made with high production values all around yet does not aspire to anything groundbreaking.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

Maybe I can only give such an unabashed endorsement of the film from my privileged subject position of being one of the first audiences to see the film or because I saw it before the glut of prestige films later in the fall.  Indeed, I can already see myself holding truly great movies against “The Imitation Game” and wondering how on earth anyone could think so highly of it.  At least for the moment, however, I choose to see the film as it is: a quality piece of cinema that is not trying to reinvent the wheel.  It’s simply trying to turn some wheels in my head, and I thoroughly enjoyed it on those terms.

Certainly a film has some merit if it can collapse a two-hour act of viewing into feeling like an experience lasting half that duration.  “The Imitation Game” flew by, largely because of how engrossed in the story and the characters I became.  Benedict Cumberbatch turns in inspired work bringing the film’s subject, Alan Turing, to life.  His performance alone is worth the price of admission.

The Imitation Game

Turing’s unconventional approach to fighting the espionage battle of WWII led him to develop an “electrical brain” to crack the German codes, which will become the world’s first digital computer.  And with a little help from colleague and quasi-love interest Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), he also begins to solve the human calculations that had puzzled him prior. Cumberbatch effortlessly shows Turing’s dogged determination and creative problem-solving, no doubt appropriating some of the strategies he used to modernize Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Homes in the BBC’s “Sherlock.”

But unlike in his Emmy-winning role, Cumberbatch also has to tackle aspects of his character that are not exclusively related to the work he does.  “The Imitation Game” goes to great lengths to humanize Turing, delving into his difficult and ultimately tragic personal life.  Graham Moore’s screenplay emphasizes this schism in Turing by fragmenting the narrative between Turing’s wartime professional triumph, his formative adolescent years, and his ignominious final years.

The interplay of past, the supposed fictional present, and future adds some spark to what might otherwise be a predictable watch. Tyldum hardly breaks the mold, to be sure, even though acceptance of differences is arguably his film’s core message.  Still, “The Imitation Game” boasts such quality acting from Cumberbatch and filmmaking all around that it’s hard not to recommend.  B+3stars

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2 responses

4 01 2015
polarbears16

I must say, I was really disappointed with this movie. I didn’t like many of the stylistic decisions, and the characters were dull and underwritten. The actors try their hardest to elevate the script, but in the end, I feel like it was a poorly made movie.

7 01 2015
Marshall

Thanks for seeking this review out – it’s been a while since publication date.

I read your review, and while I certainly can’t stop you from thinking it is an “empty movie” or a “collection of meandering scenes that happen to be next to each other,” I chose to mostly ignore my small qualms with it and just enjoy. I got pretty swept up in it.

(I was also lucky enough to catch the film before all the hype added unreasonable expectations to the viewing experience, so there’s also that.)

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