The Imitation Game is the real-life story of Alan Turing, who was one of the most important British mathematicians of the 20th century. Revolving around Turing’s efforts to crack secret code at Bletchley Park during World War II, where he led the team most responsible for breaking what was considered to be the most unbreakable code; Enigma, Germany’s secret communications, and how this played an instrumental part in the Allied victory. However, the details regarding this telling of Alan Turing’s true life story only fully emerged in the decades after his death.
Set at the beginning of 1941, The Imitation Game introduces us to the 27-year-old Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a genius whose prowess in mathematics far outshines his ability to interact with other people. Working secretly at Bletchley Park in England, Turing leads a team of code-breakers, problem solvers, and fellow mathematicians who have been tasked to decipher the complex secret code Enigma, used by the Nazis and thought to be impossible to break. As the team attempts to crack the code they are met by failure time and time again. This failure prompts Turing to change direction towards a profound alternative approach: create a machine to do the code-breaking for them, shatter Enigma, and win the war.
Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) will not be disappointed by his performance in The Imitation Game. From the onset, he plays the part as cryptic and obscure as the code he is trying to break. Cumberbatch brings real emotion and a feeling of desolation to his character; he’s revealing in the beginning – someone seemingly cold-blooded and completely self-absorbed – but his portrayal increasingly exposes an incredibly vulnerable man. Cumberbatch draws us in with a truly heartfelt performance. Keira Knightly (Bend it Like Beckham) plays Joan Clarke who, like Turing, does not quite fit in with a world and job that is dominated by brusque, heterosexual men. In this role, Knightley is almost the equal of Cumberbatch and they play well off each other. Special mention must be given to newcomer Alex Lawther, who plays a young Turing during his days at boarding school. He is simply incredible in his performance and perfectly reflects the hurt and emotional pain that Alan Turing endured throughout his youth.
The supporting cast is a who’s who of British actors, including two stand-outs, Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Charles Dance (Game of Thrones). They are spot-on choices here to support both Cumberbatch and Knightly and bring the right amount of depth to their respective roles as high-ranking government officials overseeing the Enigma project.
Directed by Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) and based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, The Imitation Game is a structured biopic that skips between Turing’s youth, work during World War II, and his life after Enigma. The Imitation Game is directed in a clear and concise way that will not confuse viewers even with the many flash-backs and flash-forwards. Following Graham Moore’s exceptional screenplay, the direction unfolds the layers of Turing’s painful life by exploring his life from his youth though the final days of his life. The superb acting and gripping story are backed perfectly by Alexandre Desplat’s impressive score.
The Imitation Game may take place mostly during World War II and the events during the effort to crack the nearly unbreakable Nazi Enigma code, but it has a backstory set throughout the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s that is a narrative about those who lived outside the British social norms. The title of the movie, The Imitation Game, is more of a nod to Alan Turing and the side of his life he tried to keep secret than it is a reference to the Enigma code.
Deftly directed and wonderfully acted. I give The Imitation Game 4.5 stars.
by Don Powers