Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant mathematician who usually rubs people the wrong way due to his complete lack of social skills. When he’s called into the office of Cdr. Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) to discuss working on a top secret project for the British Government during the Second World War, he nearly talks himself out of the interview. Eventually, Turing convinces Denniston that he’s the right man for the job and he’s introduced to the rest of the team who will try to devise a way to break the Nazi Enigma code machine. Turing immediately alienates the rest of the group and sets himself apart to work alone. The leader of the group, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) files a formal complaint against Turing hoping to get him removed from the team. Turing writes a letter to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and is suddenly put in charge. Turing continues to be inapproachable and brusque with his co-workers while he builds a machine that he believes will be able to sort through the trillions of possible code combinations of Enigma. Deciding he needs more help, Turing puts a crossword puzzle in the local newspaper with a phone number to call for anyone who can solve it in less than 10 minutes. Several people succeed including Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), the only woman who responds, and they are invited to take a test. Giving the respondents another crossword to solve, this time in less than six minutes, Joan and another young man are the only ones who succeed and are then told about the top secret work they will be doing by Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), a member of the British intelligence agency MI-6. Joan and Turing become friendly as she doesn’t attach any personal insult to his odd personality. Joan is able to show Turing that he needs to work with his team and that won’t happen unless they like him. Turing makes awkward gestures of friendship to the group which breaks the ice and leads the team to begin helping with the machine. Despite all the secrets with which they are dealing, Turing has the biggest secret of all: He’s a homosexual, which is illegal under British law, and that would get him banned from working on the project and sent to jail.
“The Imitation Game” is joyous and heartbreaking, thrilling and infuriating, funny and sad. Told in a series of flashbacks that look at Turing’s unhappy childhood, his work at the Bletchley Radio Factory that was a front for his secret military work and the period after the war when a burglary at his home started in motion the events that would lead to his pleading guilty to gross indecency and lead to his chemical castration, “The Imitation Game” is perhaps a perfect movie that I wish had ended differently. Not that the ending needs to be changed; it’s history that needs an overhaul. Turing is the father of modern computer science. His codebreaking machine is thought to be responsible for shortening the war in Europe by over two years and saving an estimated 14 million lives. His work is the basis for research into artificial intelligence. He should have won at least one Nobel Prize and been taught in high schools all over the world. Sadly that isn’t the case because of who he loved—other men. Turing is ultimately a tragic figure and the perfect subject of a movie. He knew both great triumphs and enormous tragedies and the prejudice of the time led to him taking his own life in 1954 at the age of 41.
Benedict Cumberbatch is my favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar. His portrayal of Turing is mesmerizing. When Turing is working out problems, either mathematical or personal, his thought process can be seen streaming across Cumberbatch’s face. His eyes dart from side to side yet never lock on anything as the biochemical computer in his skull races to find a solution. Cumberbatch is so good in this role it will be difficult for him to top it. Yet, I think he probably will as he is constantly full of surprises. The intensity and emotion of his work in the film is incredible. There’s very little left to be said.
I can see Keira Knightley being nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar for her work as Joan Clarke. Knightley plays the part almost like Joan is Turing’s big sister. She understands his genius as she is nearly as smart as he is and his inability to behave normally. For both of them, being normal is highly overrated. Knightley’s role as Joan may be overemphasized when compared to the historical record; however, Joan in the film is the conduit by which Turing becomes something understandable. Turing is at first glance an unlikable character. While we know he’s a genius he knows it as well and he doesn’t mind reminding anyone who will listen how smart he is. Joan is able to soften Turing’s rough edges and show the audience the decent guy on the inside. Her guidance in the film leads to the breakthrough that made Turing’s machine work. Knightley brings her usual grace and poise to the role of Joan. She also adds a touch of fun as she gently prods Turing to be a more likable person.
The rest of the cast is also excellent with special mention to Mark Strong. Playing the MI-6 agent Stewart Menzies, Strong is especially sneaky and at times frightening. Strong’s performance gives the audience the impression he could make anyone disappear and there would be no questions which is perfect for a shadowy character in World War II. While Menzies at times uses questionable tactics, Strong is able to make these seem suave and mysterious. Charles Dance plays Cdr. Denniston as a no-nonsense military man with little time for Turing’s personality peccadillos. Once Turing is working at Bletchley Park, anytime Denniston is on screen usually means trouble. Dance plays the role as if he was a king and Turing was a peasant. That apparent desire to be the undisputed ruler of the Bletchley project means the two are going to clash and Dance is able to make the character both dislikable and sympathetic. While not on screen that much, Dance makes the most of his performance.
“The Imitation Game” is rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking. There are a couple of dirty jokes told that leave out most of the dirty part. Concepts of homosexuality and its perception in British society at the time are a central theme. Several people are shown smoking cigarettes. There are no language issues.
It’s rare that a movie without spaceships, aliens, monsters and other flashy special effects grabs and holds my interest the way “The Imitation Game” did. It’s a story that, despite some historical inaccuracies, needs to be told to everyone. If you live in a free country, Alan Turing is probably at least partially responsible and this film about his life and contributions is a spectacular piece of work. SEE IT!!!
“The Imitation Game” gets five stars out of five.
Another historical figure gets the big screen treatment along with the third in a series of action films. I’ll see and review one of these, both of these or something else entirely. You never can tell as I’m unpredictable.
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