The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing, a prodigal mathematician who played an integral part in breaking Nazi Germany’s “unbreakable” Enigma code during World War II. He and his team’s work shortened the war by an estimated two years, saving upwards of fourteen million lives. Told in a focused, smart fashion and featuring a top-notch performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game both brings to life and pays tribute to Turing’s history-altering and pioneering work that paved the way for modern computing.
The story takes place over three important times in Turing’s (Cumberbatch) life. Bullied mercilessly as a child at school, his upbringing was largely spent solving crossword puzzles and passing “encrypted” notes during class to his only friend, Christopher. The central part of the film concerns Turing leading a team in trying to break the Enigma code. Confident, cocky, and mostly off-putting to the rest of the team, Turing never doubts his ability to create a machine that can decode the hundreds of millions of possible code encryption methods used by the Nazis. The last passages deal with the aftermath of the revelation that Turing is gay, which was an indecency crime at the time.
Though the story arc is as familiar as they come for the biopic genre, The Imitation Game is a first-class production through and through. Director Martin Tyldum ratchets up the suspense throughout, none more so than when the Enigma code is broken and the full realization of its ramifications come to light. Graham Moore’s screenplay gets just tech-y enough without losing the audience, though this limitation does affect how deeply the film can delve into Turing’s problem-solving processes. The final act feels rushed, briefly touching upon the authorities discovering Turing is gay and their attempt to “cure” him with hormonal therapy. It’s a sad, completely unjust end for one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.
Benedict Cumberbatch turns in one of 2014’s best performances as Turing. Balancing cockiness and rudeness with confident genius, Cumberbatch conjures a wealth of depth in his portrayal of a complex man. His late scenes bring the pain and sadness that Turing lived with for so many years to the forefront. Keira Knightley is also impressive as Joan Clarke, Turing’s co-worker and confidant. It’s some of the more emotionally complicated work of her career.
The Imitation Game is a peg up from the standard biopic fare. Though it can’t help but get caught in some of the familiar trappings, Tyldum’s taut direction and Cumberbatch’s sterling performance, as well as the compelling story, make for fine viewing. It’s a crowd-pleasing experience, and one that gives proper due to one of the most brilliant minds of an era. We all owe him a debt of gratitude, as his critical thinking and problem solving skills led to development of the devices we can no longer live without.
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Length: 114 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.
Theatrical Release: November 28, 2014 (Limited) / December 25, 2014 (Wide)
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Graham Moore. Based upon the book by Andrew Hodges.
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech