Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Imitation Game (Spoiler Free)

The lives of many of the people behind the scenes of World War II remain a mystery, but few are as fascinating as the life of Alan Turing.  A brilliant mathematician with intense psychological pain, Turing helped crack the Nazi's Enigma Code, which was instrumental in helping the Allies win the war.  Loosely based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, The Imitation Game is a powerfully acted little movie that tells a very heartbreaking story.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an outcast in many ways; for those that don't know the real-life figure, it appears at first that Turing is just not a people person.  He pretends not to understand sarcasm, intentionally irritates people with word games, and keeps to himself almost exclusively.  Due to his own persistence, he becomes the leader of a group that concentrates on cracking the Nazi's Enigma code.   Initially, the film appears to be about Turing's development from being a loner to "one of the guys," but it takes twists and turns that give more insight into his character that go far beyond "nerdy guy learns to relax."  To give away much more would likely ruin important plot points, so I plan to review the film in a spoiler-heavy fashion very soon.  This means that this review won't really delve into my major, MAJOR problem with the film's ending, but c'est la vie. 

The screenplay by Graham More is excellently penned, especially considering it's the first feature film he's ever written.  The characters are excellently developed and the story moves along at a leisurely but effective pace. While many of the details are, I'm sure, dramatized for the film, it's still one hell of a true story.  Such an important man in the history of technology (with his Turing machine being dubbed the very first computer), Turing had a very difficult and unfair life.  Despite having Einstein-like scientific and mathematic brilliance, many people are completely ignorant of his accomplishments.  The film paints Turing as a very flawed person, never some kind of superhero.  He doesn't show much compassion for other people, likely due to an incident from his childhood (portrayed in the film), and even makes the difficult decision to let innocent people die so that the code-cracking operations can remain secretive from the Germans.

Benedict Cumberbatch channels a bit of his award-winning Sherlock character into his portrayal of Turing, removing some of that character's joy and replacing it with deep-seeded pain.  It's a fantastic performance to be sure, proving that Cumberbatch is one of the best actors working in TV and movies today.  Keira Knightly is likable as Turing's only real friend Joan.  She's quick-witted, charming, and almost as brilliant as he is.  The other cast members gel very well, but there's not much more to speak of about their development that wouldn't, once again, spoil the plot.  The code-breakers grow into a sort of family, and they genuinely want to make a difference in the world, not just do their jobs well enough.

The film's tone balances the lighthearted with the traumas of World War II very nicely, never jerking from a serious scene to a humorous one.  Rather, each scene is played straight, but may have some underlying comedy that comes from the characters.  I don't know if it's Argo or The King's Speech levels of good, but it's a film that's full of heart as well as emotion amidst the period setting. The score by Alexandre Desplat (who most notably did the music for Gravity and the final Harry Potter films) is excellent as well; chilling and somber without being intrusive.  Take notes, Hans Zimmer.  Apparently, Desplat wrote the score in less than three weeks, which I just can't even conceive.

As the Oscar season wraps up, it's clear to see that many films we all thought would be Oscar contenders turned out to be total washouts.  It's nice to see that The Imitation Game not only turned out to be a good movie, it might just be one of my favorite movies this year.  It's not perfect, or even close to it; it's final act is just bad enough to hold it back from greatness without turning the movie into some kind of train wreck. Let's just say it has the same problems as the last shot of Thelma and Louise, if you know what I'm saying.  Cumberbatch and Knightly really shine here, and I would be lying if I said I didn't learn a thing or two about the behind-the-scenes happenings of World War II while watching an entertaining period piece.  Well made and full of heart, peppered with sadness that may effect many people on a personal level, The Imitation Game is well worth the watch.