Saturday, November 29, 2014

Review: The Imitation Game

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
"The Imitation Game" should seal the deal for those previously unconvinced by Benedict Cumberbatch's quick rise and cheeky following (the self-titled "Cumberbitches"). As Alan Turing, an eccentric English mathematician who is credited with cracking the Nazis' Enigma code, Cumberbatch brings life and humanity to a man who, on first glance, may strike one as an arrogant, unfriendly prig, despite his genius.

Turing enlisted in Great Britain's war effort due to his knack for code breaking and went on to create a machine known as Christopher that would unscramble Enigma, the Germans' method of morse code during World War II that was thought impossible to crack. In the film, Turing is surrounded by a team of Brits assisting his efforts, including a cad and chess champion named Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and a female code breaker (Keira Knightley), which was virtually unheard of - or, at least, this movie allows us to think so.

The picture is an unabashed crowd pleaser, but I don't mean that in a derogatory sense. It's highly entertaining and filled with strong performances, from the aforementioned leads to Mark Strong's wry head of intelligence and Charles Dance's grouchy commander.

The plotline involving Turing and his team's attempts to crack the code is interlaced with another side story that only slowly reveals itself. It involves an investigation into Turing some years later and the discovery that he is a homosexual - a fact which he does not hide from his pals working with him on Enigma.

And so what begins as a crackling wartime thriller eventually morphs into a very sad story of how a brilliant man who played a significant role in Great Britain's fight against Nazism is rewarded with ostracization by his own country.

And while Cumberbatch does a fine job portraying Turing as the snippy mathematician who doesn't believe his fellow code breakers can keep up with him, he takes it to a whole other level in the film's final scenes as Turing faces melancholy prospects after having been arrested for indecency and realizing that his heroic wartime efforts will likely never meet the light of day (they do, in fact, but some 50 years later).

"The Imitation Game" is the type of film that could be labeled as "Oscar bait" (World War II? Check. Eccentric Historical Figure? Check. British Lead Actor? Check.),  but it does not deserve the negative connotation that typically comes with that phrase. It's an exciting, very well written and acted and ultimately tragic story of a brilliant man who likely saved many lives who was given less than a hero's welcome by his own country.

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