The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgDear reader, please forgive my opening tangent. On November 9, 2014, Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay ran the field for a 78-yard touchdown pass, then celebrated his win. Only to find he had prematurely dropped the ball on the 1 yard line. Realizing this, Oregon’s Joe Walker of the opposing team, recovered the ball and ran it back in the other direction for a 99-yard touchdown for Oregon. Joy turned to heartbreak is kind of how I felt watching The Imitation Game. The drama is largely a captivating tale that culminates in such an odd way. The denouement rendered a seemingly easy victory into a crushing disappointment.

Recounting Alan Turing’s life is a daunting task. It has been attempted before: a 1996 BBC production starring Derek Jacobi entitled Breaking the Code and 2011’s Codebreaker, a made for TV movie in the UK. Logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist – Alan Turing was a pioneer. His Turing machine was highly influential in the development of the algorithm and modern day computers. The time period is World War II when the allies are desperately trying to intercept and decode German communications. They utilize something called an Enigma machine that scrambles their communications making them undecipherable. Alan is essentially hired to crack to the code so they can better understand what the Axis powers are going to do next. Watching Alan and his team of scholars study messages in a room isn’t exactly the stuff of compelling viewing but director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) makes the code cracking exciting.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing is the portrait of a fascinating individual. However Turing is a bit of an enigma himself. In flashback we get brief glimpses of his schoolboy days where his socially awkward personality doesn’t quite meld with his peers. Yet he is befriended by fellow student Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon) and the relationship sheds some light on Turing’s identity. His antisocial nature carries over into adulthood when dealing with his fellow mathematicians. They’re tasked with breaking the Enigma code. Turing contacts Winston Churchill who places him in charge of the group and then Turning promptly fires two members.  His stumbling association with his remaining peers (Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech) provide a lot of interesting interactions that help us understand Alan Turing, the man. It’s this time at Bletchley Park, the British World War II code breaking station, that the production really takes off. Many of their advances were accomplished under such secrecy that it would be years before the world was made aware of their contributions to the war effort. Alan Turing is a conflicted man and Cumberbatch portrays the nuances of a complicated individual. Keira Knightly is a delight as the only girl on the team. Her considerable warmth is a nice counterpoint to Turing’s troubled disposition. His relationship to his superior, Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance), is decidedly more tense but the back and forth between him and the prickly Commander provides some of the most delightfully satisfying moments.

The Imitation Game is 3/4 of an extremely entertaining biography. The last half hour gives us a hurried peek into the concluding events of his life. The movie I saw was 1 hour 54 minutes but the final quarter was so rushed it had me thinking the projectionist forgot to load a reel of film. One minute Turing is being lionized for having made “the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany.” The next minute he’s being arrested on charges of “gross indecency” due to his homosexuality. From hero to outcast in ostensibly minutes. A title card during the epilogue hastily informs us of the circumstances surrounding his death. Talk about abrupt endings. We’re left wondering why the complete 180 from the government with regards to all his tireless work. Unfortunately the script doesn’t delve into these latter day developments. For most of the run time, The Imitation Game remains a highly polished, beautifully acted picture. That mystifying resolution though. It’s such a supremely frustrating experience. Unfortunately we walk away with more questions than answers.

12-16-14

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16 Responses to “The Imitation Game”

  1. I can see where that would be frustrating. I’m still anxious to see this but I am starting to hear a few things that make me believe it’s not quite as good as I hoped.

  2. I loved the film and thought it was all thoughtfully explained at the end. It’s in my top 3 along w/Birdman & Whiplash. Boyhood, the concept, is brilliant, but the movie itself played as more documentary to me and considering I’m a girl, I think it is probably best related to by men/boys and clearly it’s called Boyhood! 😀 Just saw Selma tonight w/Dir & cast present at Q & A afterwards. I liked it..I didn’t love it. The Oscar is up for grabs at this point! 🙂

    • I’ve seen Selma as well. I liked it quite a bit, but probably not in my Top 10 for the year.

      Boyhood is the film to beat at this point although I agree the Oscar is still up for grabs. Even though it’s called Boyhood, I think it could have easily been called girlhood or even adulthood. All of their stories were woven together so thoughtfully. I adore that film.

  3. Having seen this film back in July with Q & A w/Dir/Actors after the film..they did point out the male growing up fact as I did. That’s why I love Q & A’s..they give such good insight sometimes into things we might have skipped on our own. 🙂

  4. Ugh. I don’t know why, but I just do NOT like Benedict Cumberbatch. I honestly know if I could watch The Imitation Game without hating it. Cumberbatch has been key in the Oscar race this year, and I just don’t want to directly face the fact that he can actually act.

  5. I was a big fan of this also, until that awful ending. Could have been one of my favorites of the year. I was feeling it, but that ending just killed it. 3 1/2 stars

  6. LOVE the opening “tangent.” I laughed out loud when you brought it home at the end of the first paragraph. I’ve heard that the film is fantastic during the code-breaking scenes, but that the rest of the film wasn’t that exciting. It also sounds like it tries to wrap things up too quickly, which isn’t good any time that happens.

  7. I found this extremely disappointing. It’s a fascinating story that should absolutely be told, but I think the way it was told was dull and uninteresting. It was really disjointed, the timelines were unnecessary, and the characters were poorly developed. Cumberbatch did his best to elevate the material, though.

  8. I’m disappointed in this film as this tackles a very complex biography but did so with 3 linear time frames at the same time. While I clearly understand that this is a much need to tell biopic of a brilliant man and his contribution to western society as we know it, I was quite frustrated with
    1) the idyllic set designs of wartime England which was a disconnect, visually, for me to illustrate urgency for the code to be cracked. It looked very much like sets for a musical on stage.
    2) the last quarter of the film, which, like you said, wrapped up too fast, in that it never established WHY a) Turing was being pursued with such dedication by the investigator and b) when charged with indecency, why the British government didn’t come in to insist on immunity. I suppose real life is never perfectly fair, but what a huge tragedy for a man to be penalized at a personal level and then publicly humiliated after having made such a huge contribution to his nation, to the Allies and to the western world.

    The mood and tone of this movie was moderated at too even of a tone and pitch throughout, very “stiff upper lip” indeed with no real highs and lows. Even when the code was cracked, it still felt, reeled in.

    I’m not sure I’m in agreement with how this film is being lauded, as a whole, in the awards seasons, but Cumberbatch was brilliant in his role, so he’s definitely deserving of a nom. Knightly, on the other hand, had some great lines, namely her feminist outburst during their last scene on a personal matter. I think this nom for her is more a cumulative catchup for her collective good work since her last nom in 2005.

    • What ultimately happened to Turing should have been given as much attention as his work, but instead feels rushed over for the sake of producing a more sanitized, award-season-friendly film.

      Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley were better than the material so both are highly deserving of their nominations.

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