Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Movie Review: "The Imitation Game"

The Imitation Game is the kind of movie that could win Oscars, now whether or not the competition will be too stiff for it to do so is another matter.  The most fascinating thing about The Imitation Game is that it is a stylish history lesson that manages to remain entertaining thanks to some intriguing visual ideas and stellar performances from its cast.

The movie tells the true story of Alan Turing (played in this film by Benedict Cumberbatch in an Oscar worthy performance), who was a British mathematician who is considered one of the most influential men in computer sciences.  Turing's biggest claim to fame was when he created a computer for England in World War II to break the seemingly unbreakable Nazi enigma code.  It is the drama that occurred around the creation of the said computer that is the primary focus of the story, with majority of the movie playing like a war film without really ever seeing much war.  In a way, you could say that this is a war film honoring the smart men and women who solved problems from the homefront, while often not being able to solve their own personal problems.

What The Imitation Game tries and succeeds at illuminating is that the greatest tragedy of Turing's life truly isn't the fact that he was persecuted for his being different, but that he was a man who did so much for humanity but could never quite crack the code to his own humanity or that of others.  The whole film sort of plays like a puzzle, with the story being told in three concurrent timelines:  when Turing was at boarding school as a child, when he was decoding Enigma, and when he was arrested in 1951 for homosexuality, with his time decoding Enigma making up about ninety percent of the story.  However, by interspersing these other time periods into the story, you see the future for Turing and we have to often venture into the past to piece together all of the details of the man, to understand why he was the way he was and how he eventually got to the point he was in.  It is in constructing this movie like a puzzle that gives it an extra bit of pizazz that keeps this movie from being like a made-for-TV movie.

Director Morten Tyldum works with his cinematographer, Oscar Faura, and editor, William Goldenberg, to create a visual language, at times similar to that of Christopher Nolan from The Prestige.  There is some truly spectacular crosscutting between scenes in the past, present, and future, that really astounded me as a fellow filmmaker.  One matchcut in particular, going from a Nazi u-boat firing a torpedo, to a sideways shot showing a cigarette being snuffed out in an ashtray, is perhaps the most powerful cut I have seen in a movie in a long time.  The way that Tyldum and company work in conjunction with Graham Moore's taut script, makes every scene of the film another piece of the puzzle to the eventual outcome.  Often you watch a movie and feel there are extraneous scenes, but each scene in The Imitation Game builds toward the tragedy of Turing in his final years.  Then there is the music from Alexandre Desplat, that is both simple in its themes and motifs, but exceptionally complex in how it uses a lot of moving parts to aurally illustrate Turing's always mobile mind.  From a technical standpoint, this is about as well made a film you can find, but what gives the film its heart and soul is the actual way Turing is represented.

The greatest feat that The Imitation Game accomplishes is in the way that it makes Turing a character you root for and pity.  Turing was a very anti-social, slightly arrogant man, who did not know how to deal with people all that well and who struggled with his closeted homosexuality for his entire life (which was against the law at that time in Britain).  The credit really goes to Cumberbatch (and those soulful eyes) for showing the heartbreaking humanity inside of Turing.  There are few actors currently working who can play the calculating man with the heart that Cumberbatch brings to these roles.  You genuinely feel that Cumberbatch's Turing is not a man who is ever intentionally being mean or offensive, he just does not know how to properly behave.  He has been bullied and disliked his entire life, with only a small handful of people who ever genuinely cared for him, with one such person being Joan Clark, the only woman who worked on Turing's team of codebreakers.  Keira Knightley does some of her best work ever here as Clark, managing to decode Turing even when he doesn't seem to figure himself out.

In short, The Imitation Game is for anyone who enjoys well made movies.  The movie isn't explicit and would play well to a high school history class, but it also has a little more to it than just a good history lesson.  Alan Turing was a tragic, broken man who was isolated from an early age, with the only ones who ever took a vested interest in him always leaving in the end.  Any man or woman who can never manage to solve the riddle of emotion and connect with other people is one that I pity.  I think we all often struggle with how best to connect with people, and that to me is what The Imitation Game is all about.

I give The Imitation Game a 9 out of 10!

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