“The Imitation Game” Movie Review

      Positioned as a likely awards contender, director Morten Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game” arrives as one of those niche films that achieves a kind of must see status as a result of buzz created by the performances of Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, the film’s headlining stars.  Based on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges and adapted for the screen by Graham Moore, the film chronicles little known facts about how we perceive World War 2 was actually won.  As we are told at the end, Alan Turing’s story was held under wraps and left classified by the British Government for some 50 years after the war ended.  Certainly, based on the events in the film as they are presented, a rewrite of U.S. History textbooks is in order to at minimum credit Turing’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany, as it’s clear the war may have lasted years longer were it not for his contributions. 

     Easily the best performance of his career thus far, Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a quirky and highly genuine screen presence to his role as Alan Turing.  His acting chops here are right at the level achieved by Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” and I fully expect the two to be neck in neck during every awards ceremony until the Oscars.  Turing was a brilliant mathematician recruited by the Royal Army in 1939 Britain for the purpose of working with a military unit tasked with breaking Nazi communication codes.  In their possession was a device called “Enigma”, which was used by the Nazis to encrypt all of there sensitive communications.  In all the device was capable of 159 million combinations and the particulars of the code was changed daily, meaning if you somehow cracked the code one day, it would only be good until midnight and then change again.  The task in front of Turing and the men he was assigned to work with was an impossible one from the beginning and his notable personality didn’t help day to day operations.

     As is presented through a series of flashbacks, Turing had trouble fitting in during grade school and secondary school, always seemingly the victim of vicious taunts by his peers and cruel jokes at his expense.  He never really makes any attempt to mesh with his new co-workers, a hodgepodge of academic talent assembled by Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), a stately high level military type who probably would prefer a stand up fight rather than these behind the scenes classroom shenanigans.  It doesn’t take long before Turing sidesteps Denniston all together and gets the backing of Winston Churchill himself, of which he uses to fire those he considers beneath him and to begin work on a machine he has designed that he believes will defeat Enigma.

      Peppered throughout the film are various authentic and staged WWII battle sequences, usually touched with a sepia toned hue, but in reality “The Imitation Game” isn’t about action sequences.  In fact, the film sets out to change one’s perception of how the war was won entirely.  As you wipe away images ingrained in your mind courtesy of films like “Saving Private Ryan” or this past year’s “Fury”, Tyldum fashions his most important scenes around a giant mainframe machine with large colored dials and gears.  As Turing and his team huddle around in intense anticipation and hope that the machine will spit out that days code, so as to know the location of every member of the German army, air force, and fleet and most importantly, where they plan on attacking next.  There’s no grit, grime, or blood spilled in their top secret safe haven, but it is made clear that once Turing’s machine was able to consistently break the German codes, the war turned in the Allie’s favor for good.  Tyldum’s staging of these sequences have all the intensity and gusto of the very best suspense thrillers and is helped greatly by the outstanding supporting cast including Mark Strong as Stewart Menzies, Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander, Allen Leech as John Cairncross, and Matthew Beard as Peter Hilton.

     With the story being autobiographical in nature, it tends to veer off in different directions in order to round out Turing’s life and some of the pitfalls he faced after becoming an unsung war hero.  The relationship that develops between Turing and Joan (Knightley), a late addition to the team by way of having solved a difficult crossword puzzle in less than 6 minutes, seems convenient and forced at times, although some of that awkwardness is explained later.  I felt as though when Tyldum went away from the Enigma storyline for stops in Turing’s childhood, as well as his postwar adult hood in the early 1950s, the film lost some well earned momentum.  Of course there is plenty more to Turing’s story and those parts that involve tragedy have every right to be told, but you get the feeling the filmmakers had a difficult time finding a place for those scenes, while still honoring the man for his substantial contributions to winning the war.  This results in some unwanted changes in tone where in one scene we are being immersed in Turing’s massive accomplishment, only to suddenly find out the film really isn’t about the war after all.  It’s as if the filmmakers elected to sway the audience with a feel good war story in order to get face time with them for other reasons, which turn out to be no less important socially speaking.  I just wonder if the film might’ve been better off with a different narrative structure in order to give these various highlights of Turing’s life the due they deserve.  GRADE: B+