Film Review: The Imitation Game

Perhaps the most incredible thing about The Imitation Game is that it took until 2014 for it to be made. The story of Alan Turing who, with his team of chess-masters and crossword-queens, cracked coded Nazi communications and helped secure an Allied victory in WW2 (booting up modern computing in the process) seems so resolutely cinematic, it’s a wonder it hasn’t been told already. Graham Moore’s screenplay had been sitting around for a while, topping the Black List for best unproduced Hollywood scripts back in 2011.

The film is at its best dealing with Turing the man, assisted to no end by Benedict Cumberbatch’s riveting performance. Too weird for a traditional lead but too magnetic for a character actor, Cumberbatch is a smooth fit for Turing, whom he plays with a haunted, uncharismatic spin on the arrogant idiot-savant routine that made him famous. For an actor whose cultural relevancy seems so propelled by his sex-appeal among a certain demographic of Tumblr users, his turn as Turing is refreshingly unattractive, sporting an unflattering haircut and a childish ignorance of social customs and the feelings of others. The flashbacks to Turing’s boyhood work too, particularly his ill-fated infatuation with classmate Christopher who becomes the namesake of his code-breaking machine.

Unfortunately the film isn’t quite so good at being a thriller. The actual cryptography is uneasily streamlined until it resembles an episode of House with pathogens substituted by cyphers: it hits all the required beats, from the eureka moments to the semi-sensical crypto-babble, but does so in such a mechanical way that at times it seems to just be pretending to care. The fact that the whole thing is one big foregone conclusion doesn’t help – spoiler alert: the Allies win.

From one perspective The Imitation Game is merely an adequate thriller with an unusually strong emotional core; from another, its a convincing biopic fettered by its adherence to the constraints of a genre it never quite commits to. But all the pieces are there, and though the puzzle never quite manages to assemble itself into the complete picture, it comes pretty close.

[Neil Weaving]

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