Last year was a great year for cinema, if only because it managed to deliver a very diverse slate of award-caliber films. There are some really eclectic films in contention for the roughly 16 dozen awards shows that happen this time of year. We’ve already covered a wide swath of movies that are vying for the Academy Awards. I finally got around to one of the final Best Picture nominees, “The Imitation Game.” It tells the true story of mathematician Alan Turing and his efforts to crack the elusive Enigma code during the World War II.
The Enigma code was a frustrating, complex piece of German engineering that allowed the Nazis to send out encoded messages that could not be read by the allies. Cracking the code was the highest priority and a key to ending the war. Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a socially awkward mathematician who understands the most intricate equations, but basic human interactions elude him.
He volunteers for service with the Mi6, Britain’s super secret intelligence agency, and quickly becomes the bane of his coworkers’ existence. He’s like Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory” on a case-and-a-half of Red Bull. He’s a dismissive, abusive, sanctimonious son of a bitch who could be justifiably slapped at almost any instant. He believes the only way to crack the Enigma code is to build a machine that can compute the possible variations of sequences. The military considers him a nuisance and a distraction. His fortunes turn when he writes a letter to Winston Churchill that claims he has the means to break this unbreakable code. What follows is a tense, thrilling deep dive into the mind of a madman, as he struggles to solve the puzzle of the Enigma code. With the help of a magical talking stuffed bear, he just might make that happen. OK, you got me. There’s no magical talking stuffed bear, but wouldn’t that have been awesome.
“The Imitation Game” is a rarity among the other Best Picture candidates like “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” It’s a very conventional piece of drama, and a study of Alan Turing’s mind, his character, and the way he helped the allies win the war. The movie is brilliantly paced and structured more like a traditional thriller than an award-nominated drama. The stakes are high, and the crushing weight of Turing and his team is constantly felt.
Even after they break the code, they can barely celebrate before realizing that revealing their success would alert the Germans and the code would be reset. Solving the code was merely the start of their problems. Turing, who already had something of a God complex is now playing the role of God and deciding which information can be shared without alerting the enemy.
The whole movie rests on Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance, and he carries the whole thing to the finish line. It’s as good as any performance you’ll see this year. Turing is a frustrating, vulnerable and difficult character. He lacks the inherent likability of someone like Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking (another tortured genius). Despite his shortcomings, he’s a fascinating character who is happily used when his genius was required and discarded like human garbage after the fact. His sacrifices and struggles bought him not a single ounce of goodwill simply because Turing is gay. Being gay wasn’t just an inconvenience in mid-20th century Britain, it was practically a death sentence. Turing is branded a deviant for his sexual preference, and his post-war life sees him driven to madness from drugs that chemically castrate him in lieu of serving jail time.
“The Imitation Game” is a top-notch drama and very much by-the-book in terms of story and structure. It excels with superior performances and direction. It takes a very dense story and turns it into a crowd-pleasing thriller. “The Imitation Game” is a great piece of history and the kind of story more people should be aware of. Alan Turing was a man who knew little peace in his own life even though his breakthroughs saved millions who never even knew of his sacrifice. “The Imitation Game” is an exhilarating and heartbreaking film well worth seeing.
The Imitation Game
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode
Directed by Morten Tyldum