Alan Turing’s life is as inspiring as it is tragic; a genius fighting to break Nazi codes while dealing with his sexuality in the midst of a discriminatory era.
Director Morten Tyldum, who previously had a hit with the 2011 Norwegian thriller Headhunters, brings the life of the British mathematician, cryptanalyst and logician to the screen with The Imitation Game.
While engrossing and brilliantly performed, the film falls short of greatness once too often, afraid to fully tackle the emotion and psychology of the subject it clearly respects.
The Imitation Game is structured around a police questioning, which saw Turing under the eye of the law for “homosexual acts” deemed illegal in early 1950’s England. While Turing’s sexuality would play an important hand in his life and his ultimate fate, the film focuses more on the role he played in the Allies’ defeat over the Nazis.
As we jump back and forth through different time periods, we learn of Turing’s intelligence, his socially awkward nature, his passion for mathematics and problem solving, and his strong-headed perseverance that would ultimately change history.
The main body of the film consists of Turing’s attempts at breaking the Enigma code, a system used by the Germans to ensure their messages were almost undecipherable. Turing’s development of a decryption device is the ultimate driving force behind the plot, followed by his relationships with his team and Keira Knightley’s Joan Clarke.
Complete with montages and crowd-pleasing “gotcha!” moments, the body of the film unfolds in a familiar and charming fashion. There is genuine suspense as Turing and his team try desperately to break the code, made all the more harder with Enigma’s code reconfiguring every 24 hours.
The journey between Turing and his unfolds nicely and develops predictably, as they become accustomed to his peculiar ways and his genius, but it’s the relationship between Turing and Clarke that works as the film’s emotional drive. Their love is tangible, even if it isn’t the conventional type.
Keira Knightley brings earnestness to Clarke, a genius in her own right who stands as the solo girl in this male-driven mission.
The entire cast (which includes Mark Strong and Charles Dance) put in fine performances, yet the film is ultimately carried by Benedict Cumberbatch’s fantastic performance.
In some ways similar to his Sherlock Holmes in BBC’s Sherlock, Cumberbatch absolutely nails this unconventional individual. As cocky and arrogant as he is shy and kind-hearted, Cumberbatch ensures that Turing is a person we quickly learn to understand and empathise with. We’re with him every step of the way, even when he is inadvertently offending others.
Graham Moore’s screenplay, an adaptation of Andrew Hodges’ book, is a confident and nicely formulated piece of work. The time-jumping structure works well and there is enough humour and energy here to have the audience engaged at almost all times.
The main dilemmas come down to the factors that feel poorly explored. Yes, the mission to crack the Enigma code is undoubtedly an important story and it is certainly handled in riveting fashion, but it doesn’t quite feel as though this is where Turing’s real story lies.
Tyldum and Moore have placed Turing’s role in WWII front and centre, while occasionally driving home aspects of his sexuality and the complications it brought him in later years. These moments are respectfully handled and help paint a 3-dimensional character, but as the final act begins to reveal some troubling and tragic developments it becomes clear that the real gist of the story hasn’t been explored well enough.
The Imitation Game‘s final chapters are almost rushed after the Enigma component is complete, a crying shame, since it’s these final developments that ultimate hit home emotionally.
Despite these missed opportunities, The Imitation Game remains a solid picture. Cumberbatch’s performance lifts the entire film to another level, surely pushing his rocketing career even higher, and the film’s thriller aspects are effectively handled. If there were more grit around to highlight some of the devastating aspects, this could well have been a hard-hitting masterpiece.