“If you’re not carefully listening you will miss some things. Important things.”
I would not be typing these words or writing this review had it not been for Alan Turing. His famous code breaking system The Turing Machine paved the way for modern computers. So naturally I feel all too ungrateful when I say that I was disappointed by The Imitation Game. It’s good enough to get awards attention from the guilds and academy members who love these kinds of movies. But like The Theory of Everything, a film all too similar in style and lack of tone, this movie forgets to establish what it wants to be. Is it about Turing’s closet homosexuality which at the time was outlawed? Or is it about the device he invented that won the war? The average audience will swoon over The Imitation Game while those who take the time to deeply examine it will find flaw after flaw, especially in the script’s uneven narrative structure.
Mr. Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a standoffish and unsociable genius, is approached by MI6 at age 27. His objective; break the Nazi code from their machine aptly called Enigma. Winston Churchill has great faith in Turing, granting the man time and money for whatever he needs to ensure the Allied victory. He gathers a hodgepodge assembly of codebreakers from all different fields to join together, including Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). The group fail miserably while Turing hides away, building “Christopher,” the machine he hopes will do their job for them and bring an end to WWII. It’s actually quite thrilling, and the relationship dynamics between the team members and Turing lends itself to that chapter of the story. Yet in addition to their marvelous feat are flashbacks on Turing’s childhood and his time post-war spent tortured for his sexual orientation. They add depth, but you can only dig so deep before darkness brings you to a blind standstill.
The flashbacks primarily concern Turing and his classmate, Christopher. It’s clear that they’re more than friends, that even at an early age they share a bond superseding the standard kinship formed between young kids. Yes, it gives emotion to the present, like when Alan is building Christopher or when threatened to have his machine, his first love, destroyed. But like the post-war sequences, it muddles the overall direction of the story. At points I even felt myself lost in the three-dimensional space the film creates, unable to clearly discern which Alan was at the center. The movie feels like a novice photographer taking an out of focus picture of a dreamy Key West sunset. The beauty is there, but you just can’t clearly see it.
There really isn’t that much to say about The Imitation Game outside the boundaries of its great performances. Alexandre Desplat’s moving score stands outs from the rest of the unmemorable technical aspects, especially Morten Tyldum’s unclear direction and Graham Moore’s cliché, hackneyed script. For me, Keira Knightley gives the film’s best performance. What a charming woman she is, and every ounce of that natural charisma bounces of the screen. It only takes her one scene to steal your heart and rightfully earn her place in the best supporting actress consideration. As for Cumberbatch, it’s safe to say that this is his finest work on film. But there’s a Catch-22; the portrayal of Turing doesn’t distance itself far enough from Cumberbatch’s most famous role, which is that of Sherlock. The two are almost identical in character, and while he does an outstanding job with the material, I wish somebody else has been cast who would have been able to own the role and not just borrow it. The Imitation Game is an overly condensed yet worthwhile copycat of films past and its brevity leads to undeserved congratulatory sentiment. It’s ironic how hard it was to decipher the film’s message.
“The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5