The Imitation Game

Posted by Joel Copling on December 25, 2014

There's a phrase for films like "The Imitation Game," and it is "solid as it gets." It describes pretty well both the effort involved in executing the film's real-life tale and the overall impact of that effort. Graham Moore's screenplay, based on a book by Andrew Hodge, tells Alan Turing's story of social awkwardness amidst the act that would win the Allies World War II with crisp intelligence. Morten Tyldum's direction in conjunction with William Goldenberg's editing afford the film brisk pacing that never lags or wastes a scene. It neither aspires to nor, it must be said, achieves greatness, but that doesn't matter much when (Here it is again) the film is as solid as this one gets.

Turing is well-known for the design and development of the "Turing machine," which we now know to be a computer. The story the film tells, then, beyond this specific surge of inspiration is about what inspired it. World War II is being lost to Axis troops of Germany, and Turing himself (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of a crew hired by British Naval Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and MI6 agent Menzies (Mark Strong) to break the Enigma code, a well-named cipher that proves nearly impossible to solve (The thing has approximately 159 quintillion settings, which would take 20 million years for the team assembled here to sift through if given 24 hours of all seven days of the week). But Turing is sure he can do it; the only problem is that he doesn't work well with others and seems incapable of understanding social interaction or humor.

The team into which he is unceremoniously grouped is a motley collection of mostly interchangeable faces (to Turing, at least), including Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander, Allen Leech as John Cairncross, Matthew Beard as Peter Hilton, and, to every man's rather sexist (though period-accurate) chagrin, a woman named Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who proves as much a prodigy as--possibly more of one than--Turing. Together, they attempt a few failed experiments to become privy to Germany's style of encryption, but it isn't until Turing develops a "machine that can think" and break every code simultaneously that anything resembling progress happens.

That's where the drama of "The Imitation Game" lies. It isn't a particularly new story, nor is it particularly subtle, but Cumberbatch's performance is adept and effective at capturing the nuances of a troubled man; he is homosexual in a period of time in the U.K. when the acts therein are seen as punishable by law (That Turing killed himself at age 41 following a year of mandated hormonal therapy is the greatest and saddest proof of why this is a travesty). Elements of Turing's childhood appear via the usual flashback structure, but the film earns these conventions--as well as montages of his and the team's progress, which ably mount tension despite the inherent lack of suspense--by way of a solid creative backbone.

Film Information

Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke), Matthew Goode (Hugh Alexander), Rory Kinnear (Det. Robert Nock), Allen Leech (John Cairncross), Matthew Beard (Peter Hilton), Charles Dance (Cmdr. Denniston), Mark Strong (Stewart Menzies), James Northcote (Jack Good).

Directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Graham Moore, based on the book "Alan Turing: The Enigma" by Andrew Hodge.

Rated PG-13 (sexual references, mature thematic material, historical smoking).

114 minutes.

Released in select cities on November 28, 2014.