It’s almost amazing that with all the many World War II documentaries out there, that there still new stories coming out about that era all the time. Some are minuscule and some almost change our entire perception about the war itself. One of those stories that is finally coming it light is the story of Alan Turing and the breaking of enigma code. Based off the bestselling book by Andrew Hodges, “The Imitation Game” equals part triumph and tragedy. “The Imitation Game” is an incredible historical biopic with an empathetic but stirring and powerful performance by Benedict Cumberbatch and a well told story from screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum.
“The Imitation Game” tells the story of Alan Turing. A brilliant but socially awkward mathematician whom is hired by the British government to help break the German enigma code. A cryptic code that the Nazis use to send communications all across Europe. Unbreakable, lives are being lost because this code is too complex for anyone to crack it. Turing believes that the only way to break this code is to create a machine to break it for them. Lies and deceit run rampant while Alan tries to keep his own secrets about his sexuality at bay.
On one hand this is a period piece drama. The era is recreated with meticulous detail and director Morten Tyldum seems to have a strong grip on the era. It’s stuff we’ve seen before; London getting bombed, Nazi fear, intelligence secret service talk, it’s nothing new. But, that the beauty of making something we’ve seen before feel fresh. Under the direction of Tyldum it helps us forget we’ve seen these events presented on screen hundreds of time before. Tyldum is sleek and explodes himself onto the scene with excellent sensibilities to present a unique vision and showcase the material well above the quality of a BBC historical drama.
On the other hand this is more than just a historical drama, this is a story about a man and his demons. Alan Turing is a complex character. The story jumps between three different time periods of his life. From 1951 with a police investigation to World War II, and back to his childhood. After masterfully jumping through all three time points we get a full picture of the character and when the ending come fruition it brings everything together; what drives him, and what makes his life ultimately tragic. The ending sends shivers down your spine about the final fate of this war hero. Which ultimately brings together the meaning of the title “The Imitation Game”.
Bringing the complex character to life is Benedict Cumberbatch. The growing superstar actor continues to impress. What’s so brilliant about his performance is how vulnerable Cumberbatch makes himself become. We’ve seen him be terrifying and badass as Kahn in “Star Trek Into Darkness” , and also saw that through the motion capture work he did as Smaug in “The Hobbit” trilogy. Yet here when someone goes to throw a punch out him he winces in recoil. Turing is not a strong action hero nor a “badass”. He is fragile and can’t win in a physical match up. What’s brilliant about Cumberbatch is he makes you believe that. We’ve seen him as a badass and yet Cumberbatch’s acting ability is able to make us forget that and focus solely on Alan Turing the character.
Besides showing vulnerability from a physical standpoint Cumberbatch showcases vulnerability on an emotional level. As an audience member I could feel his pain. But, I also found him quite likeable despite his social misgivings, and gratuitous passion for his work. He is sympathetic and Cumberbatch brings all that out of the Turing character.
Playing his equal is Keira Knightley. Although still not a stretch from her typical acting roles, she is still able to give a wonderfully warm performance. While Turing can be cold and possess a lack of empathy for his partners , Knightley’s character (Joan Clarke) is full of life and warmth. She brings some humanity to the icier character of Turing, playing almost his flipside. Knightley does feel a bit type casted in a period piece at this point, but I can’t complain when she is as fabulous as she is in this movie.
Morten Tyldum is able to bring in a great supporting cast to surround our two man stars. The likes of Matthew Goode, Mark Strong (I always love whenever I see him pop up in a movie), Allen Leach, and Charles Dance of “Game of Thrones” fame. Each one plays their supporting roles well and doesn’t feel like a “background” character but instead complimentary characters that are vital to the story the filmmakers are looking to tell.
This movie isn’t 100% factual but a movie is not a text book, it doesn’t have to be factually true to be a good movie. I wouldn’t have known about the real story if it wasn’t for the film that got me to research it later after the fact. None of that taints what an incredible feature “The Imitation Game” turned about to be. Once the movie ended I wanted to go back and re-watch it again. “The Imitation Game” has that potency and grander to accomplish that.