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The Imitation Game review

The life of Alan Turing


In a 2015 Oscar race full of biographical motion pictures like The Theory of Everything, Selma, Wild, Unbroken, and Big Eyes, one biopic has risen to the top of the genre ranks in Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s (Fallen Angels, Headhunters) The Imitation Game.  Based on author Andrew Hodges’ Alan Turing: The Enigma, Tyldum’s film follows three decades (20s, 40s & 50s) in the life of British computer science pioneer and mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch- The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Penguins of Madagascar). The film not only plays out as a biography following Turing’s accomplished, tragic life, but also as a race against time during World War II.  He committed suicide later in life after taking government-mandated hormone therapy for being an admitted homosexual, an unfortunate criminal offense at the time in the British Empire. In a story that was once a fifty-year British government secret, Turing and his fellow code-breakers saved millions of lives and brought an early end to WWII after they deciphered the German Enigma machine.

Tyldum creates a tense, suspenseful subplot of cracking wartime German coded message while weaving in and out of different stages of Turing’s tumultuous life.  Each stage features an outstanding performance from an actor playing the cryptanalyst, whether it comes from lead Cumberbatch or newcomer Alex Lawther (The Fear, Yussef is Complicated).  Cumberbatch has demonstrated for years his excellent, effortless ability to play high-functioning genius on “Sherlock” and to a lesser degree as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate.  He plays Turing with an equal confidence to Sherlock Holmes, but with a much broader understanding of codes and games. Lawther plays a younger Turing at an all-boys school during his formative years.  These scenes feature Turing’s genius tendencies at an early age, the nightmarish bullying he endured, and a special relationship he formed with a classmate that would forever shape his character.  Cumberbatch currently has a Golden Globe nomination for his performance and looks more-than-poised to receive an Oscar nomination for his lead performance.


The supporting cast also turns in excellent performances.  Academy Award-nominee Keira Knightley (Laggies, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) plays Joan Clarke, a gifted cryptanalysit and numismatist who participated in Turing’s program at Bletchley Park during WWII.  Knightley plays Clarke as a brave, transcendent woman who has an ability to connect with Turing at a time when few could.  Knightley also has a supporting actress nomination for the 2015 Globes.  Charles Dance (Dracula Untold, “Game of Thrones”) plays the closest equivalent to an antagonist in Commander Denniston, a results-oriented military official who doesn’t care for Turing’s initial lack of results.

Tyldum’s film begins in the final film stage of Turing’s life in the 1950s—with the celebrated mathematician sitting in an interrogation room while homophobic cops champ at the bit to throw the book at him for his relationship with a younger man. The camera visits this stage perhaps the least as the filmmaker keeps the audience primarily in the World War II subplot with Turing and friends working to crack the Nazis’ Enigma machine.  During this time Turing meets Clarke and the two strike up a lovely friendship that leads to marriage.  Tyldum also focuses on Turing’s struggle to reconcile marrying Clarke while secretly recognizing himself as homosexual.  The audience also checks in on Turing’s younger years in school as he displays early signs of genius and endures merciless, horrific bulling while developing his first meaningful relationship outside of his family.

Knightley, Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch flawlessly plays genius yet again as real-life mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing with a quality performance sure to land the classically-trained actor with his first Academy Award nomination.  Filmmaker Morten Tyldum's first English-language motion picture features a meticulous score from Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Unbroken) that should also land the film another Oscar nom.  Few biopics add suspense to their story, and The Imitation Game adds more than some, but never really expands with the tension beyond wartime-clip montages.  The film jumps around from different eras in Turing’s life in order to give the narrative a sense of dynamic instead of the standard, linear form of storytelling cliché in films of this genre and should be commended for this technique.

Keywords: The Imitation Game review, Benedict Cumberbatch, Oscar Race, Keira Knightley, Morten Tyldum, Golden Globes, Alan Turing, code breaking, world war ii
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