Tuesday, December 16, 2014

THE IMITATION GAME (2014)

Written by Graham Moore


Directed by Morten Tyldum


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. December 1, 2014  8:15PM



When Alan Turing took his own life in 1954, most people were unaware of his invaluable assistance in helping end the war against Hitler. With the first English-language film by Norwegian filmmaker, Morten Tyldum, the compelling, historical drama, "The Imitation Game" corrects this oversight by revealing exactly what this British mathematician accomplished and how the world is still benefiting from his amazing achievements.

The film opens a couple of years before his death as Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear), a police detective, grows suspicious after Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) reports a robbery but nothing has been taken. Thinking he's on the cusp of a much bigger story, Nock begins to dig in the mathematical biologist's background but finds that his records have been sealed. Knowing that Turing is hiding something (perhaps he's a spy?), he's brought in for questioning. But the answers turn out to be far from anything that the detective could possibly imagine.

We go back to middle of the second World War as Britain is losing many brave men in this long battle while the country is being relentlessly bombed by the treacherous Nazi army. Turing has been brought on board to join the top-secret team at Bletchley Park to work on breaking the encrypted codes used by the Germans to plan their deadly rampage with their Enigma machine. While clearly a highly intelligent man, Turing is rather clueless on how to properly engage with other people. Arrogant, demanding and quite odd, Turing has difficulty fitting in with the rest of his team which includes chess champ, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and John Cairncross (Allen Leech). Frustrated, in his view, by the need for more qualified associates and a lack of funds to build an electro-mechanical device to help him with the task at hand, Turning goes over the head of his stern superior, Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and writes to his superior, Winston Churchill.

Not only does Turing get what he needs, he's given control of this project. To acquire suitable minds, a crossword puzzle is placed in a newspaper with anyone able to complete invited to apply for a job. The potential applicants are decidedly male with the exception of a tardy young woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). After an attempt to shoo her away, Turing allows Clarke to take the qualifying test that needs to be completed in under six minutes. Guess who was the first to finish?

With a top-notch team now in place (with Clarke brought on publicly as a secretary to appease her skeptical parents and chauvinistic co-workers), Turing begins work on assembling his machine. When the bombe, affectionately named "Christopher" by the inventor, is finally up-and-running, they are still no closer in be able to decipher the Nazi messages. As Hitler and his powerful army continues to heavily pummel Britain, Commander Denniston grows impatient with Turing, demanding to see results or he will shut down his unit.

"The Imitation Game" is staged like a fairly conventional bio-pic with actual events clearly heightened for dramatic effect. But director Tyldum doesn't allow this to restrict him as he skillfully brings stylish visual touches with the help of cinematographer, Óscar Faura that makes this film feel far from ordinary. The smart script by Graham Moore (which was number one in 2011 on The Black List which ranks the best unproduced scripts) delivers emotional depth to the story by taking us back to Turing's childhood to help give us better understanding of his peculiar behavior. We see his time spent at the all-male boarding school where the bullied boy meets his first friend, Christopher which awakens his desire and sadly, teaches him about devastating loss.

The impressive cast also help make this film stand out which includes Mark Strong as the shadowy Major General Menzies who simply stands back and observes until he decides his services are truly needed. But it is Mr Cumberbatch, in what is really his first major starring film role, who holds "The Imitation Game" together as he delivers a masterful turn as Turing. The actor makes us care deeply for this complicated and eccentric man who is unable to express himself in a way for others to understand. Mr. Cumberbatch is known for his distinctive but quite striking facial features; the long face, wide-set eyes and cupid lips and this unusual combination adds to making Turing seem different. Ms Knightly, who I think is not given proper due as an actress, turns in another exceptional performance as the lone woman in this group of intellectuals. Clarke wasn't able to reach her full potential during this time because of her gender but Turing saw her as an equal and they make a great team.

Although Turing and Clarke never had a real romance despite being briefly engaged, the couple shared a deep passion of the mind and spirit. Many years after their heroic efforts during the war, Alan and Joan are reunited. While she had married well and started a family, Clarke is shocked and quite saddened to see a shell of the strange but brilliant friend she once knew. After being sentenced for the crime of homosexuality, Turing faced either a long prison sentence or chemical castration. This was a very tragic ending for a man who not only saved countless lives by helping end the war years earlier but paved the way for the invention of the modern computer.