For those of you who have been living under a rock, here’s a fun fact: The Imitation Game, a biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch, has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.
The movie is based on the life of Alan Turing, a British mathematician and cryptographer, who is best known for breaking the supposedly “unbreakable” Nazi code Enigma. It traces his life through his early teenage years to his work on solving the code to later on, when he is persecuted by the British government on account of his homosexuality. Apart from Cumberbatch, it boasts of acclaimed British actors like Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech and Mark Strong.
Here’s the thing: I probably would have been a lot more impressed by this movie if I had never seen ‘Sherlock’.
But sadly, I have spent a considerable amount of my time and energy watching Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman running around Britain while exchanging loving repertoires. And Cumberbatch’s Turing is remarkably similar to his Holmes. Although perhaps slightly less sassy, the outlines of the character remain the same: a genius who is unable to communicate with the world because of his own eccentricities, whose perception of the world around his is quite, quite different from that of others. While I’m sure that Cumberbatch performed his role as Turing admirably, I hardly noticed: so much of what he did seems similar to Sherlock that the genius of his acting was lost in the ordinariness of it all.
When you look at The Imitation Game overall, you are forced to concede that it is, by all accounts, a fairly good movie. It’s witty and charming, and mostly brilliantly cast. The scenes depicting Turing and his team attempting to solve the Enigma code in Bletchley Park, a radio factory turned top-secret military base, are thrilling and well-directed, with the dynamic between the team and Turing himself being particularly refreshing. The anger is real. So is the mutual respect.
But so much about this movie is flawed. Cumberbatch’s typecasting is only the tip of the heap: the scenes involving Detective Nock (played by Rory Kinnear) seem forced and contrived. They want so hard to make him moderately intelligent and overtly suspicious that they make him a hollow character who doesn’t fit his lines or his actions. The rapid transitions and throwbacks between the three different times that the film shows (childhood, his time breaking the code, and later on in his life) are clunky and unplanned; they seem more awkward than anything else. The first twenty minutes of the movie pass by in a haze – it tries to pack in so much wittiness that it fails to give the viewer time to breathe. The end result is a mishmash of conversation without any exposition shots, a series of quick scenes that are all composed of half-hearted wittiness and some nervous, questioning laughs.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the movie for me was when they attempted to explain the title. Here’s a spoiler: the explanation does not make sense. Here, I feel, the filmmakers utterly failed at their duty.
All of this doesn’t mean that the Imitation Game is a poor movie – it does have it’s highlights. Knightley performs brilliantly as Dr. Joan Clark, a brilliant mathematician who is sidelined and patronized because she’s a woman (this is the 1940s, after all). My personal favourite was Stewart Menzies (played by Mark Strong), the cocky and manipulative chief of MI6 who is not above threatening and lying in order to get his way. Then there’s Allen Leech (known for his role as ‘Tom Branson’ on Downton Abbey), who plays another cryptographer, John Cairncross, who seems ordinary enough at first, but turns out to have some secrets of his own. Another delight was Matthew Goode, who plays Hugh Alexander, a handsome flirt who is also on the team at Bletchley Park. Charles Dance, as Alastair Denniston, is sufficiently terrifying, although he, too, seems typecast into the role of a man in a position of authority whose favourite pastimes include following the rules rigidly and being generally overbearing (Dance also plays Tywin Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones).
Some of the best scenes involve Cumberbatch himself. His attachment to his machine (the Turing machine, a codebreaker that was the precursor to the first computer), whom he affectionately names ‘Christopher’ after a childhood love, is touching. He is also brilliant in his awkwardness while trying to make friends with his hostile teammates, and when he’s attempting to persuade Clark to stay behind at Bletchley. Turing’s younger form, played by Alex Lawther, is also remarkable in some of his scenes, although he seems rather insipid in the others.
Overall, The Imitation Game is a good movie. It’s enjoyable, and it chronicles Turing’s life admirably, especially his time solving the code. If it does have some flaws, well, that is only to be expected. Turing was imperfect; why should his movie be any different?