Monday 17 November 2014

Film Review: The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game is the story of Alan Turing, a socially-awkward professor and mathematician who becomes the key to defeating the Germans during World War II by solving the Enigma Code.

Directed by Morton Tyldum and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, this gorgeously crafted period piece is an early frontrunner in the Oscar race and excels across the board.

The tagline for The Imitation Game reads 'behind every code is an enigma', and whilst it may be referring to the central premise of its own plot, it also encapsulates the dilemma of its central character, Alan Turing - a gifted mathematician and cryptologist, Turing is credited with pioneering scientific thinking in the field of computing against the backdrop World War II.

But, this credit arrived much later than Turing deserved - in addition to being socially-awkward and introverted, Turing was a homosexual, something which was illegal in Britain at the time. This dilemma, caught between his own sexuality and scientific achievement is uncovered through Graham Moore's excellent screenplay, as it explores his life, beginning during his school years and plotting all the way through to his post-war conviction and tragic end.

On top all this, The Imitation Game is a war thriller. It's a race against time, to stop the war and save the world. Trapped in their own little time loop (every night, the Enigma code resets and work must begin afresh), Turing's team of mathematicians become increasingly desperate to solve the puzzle - of both the Enigma machine, and their enigmatic leader.

Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor whose work I've always enjoyed, but it's fair to say he has his share of detractors - naysayers who brand him as a Tumblr poster boy whose career is carried by those kooky looks and hypnotic voice. Well, if it wasn't already obvious, they couldn't be more wrong. This guy can act. Like, really, really act.

In The Imitation Game, Cumberbatch looks every part the fully-formed Hollywood leading man. This is the performance of an actor taking centre stage and asserting himself as a genuine Oscar contender - his Turing is fragile, intelligent and uncompromising. As the above quote states, the real enigma here is Turing himself - and Cumberbatch 'solves' it with ease. As he has done in the past with Sherlock, Cumberbatch embodies the complex role in such a way that we don't see him anymore, just the character.

The script also manages to strike a balance between the different elements of Turing's character - it explores his homosexuality, and its consequences, without making it his defining character trait. The film ensures that he, regardless of being gay or straight, is primarily commended for his immense bravery, intelligence and forward-thinking, even if history itself betrayed this fact in convicting him for his sexuality.

Not only that, but Cumberbatch's spellbinding performance is supported by a raft of equally brilliant cast members. This is one of those rare films where each role has been cast pretty much perfectly.

Keira Knightly (Atonement, Begin Again) plays Joan Clarke, a friend and co-worker of Turing's who acts as his confidant and emotional anchor throughout the film. Whilst some may criticise the fact this is another period piece for Knightley, it's hard to argue that she's miscast.

Also amongst the cast is Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) - funnily enough, Dance's character - a prim and proper Army Officer - supplies the bulk of the film's devilishly witty (and might I add, delightfully English) humour. I hadn't expected the script to be as light-hearted as it was at times, but I must say the dry quips Dance shared with Cumberbatch and Mark Strong (who plays the Head of MI6) was hilarious, and I daresay, funnier than most 'comedies'.

That's not to say this is a war film that skates over the moral quandaries and emotional turmoil of conflict. At one point in the film, Turing and his team of cryptographers must choose whether or not to sacrifice a convoy of civilian ships to preserve the secrecy of their code-breaker from the Germans. It's a powerful scene, and one that presents reasonable context from both sides, and effectively highlighting the subtle game of chess Turing and his team can boil the war down into.

I also liked how the film was structured - rather than trudge through his life in chronological order (which didn't work very well in Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom), Tyldum cuts from the central plot (set during the War) to key moments in his childhood and the post-war investigation into his affairs to great effect. The latter storyline ties everything together nicely, whilst the former provides integral context to his later life - what I'm trying to say is, nothing feels superfluous or wasted. The runtime is a brisk 114 minutes, and I didn't feel bored for a single second.

One minor niggle (and I do mean minor) is that some of the switches felt too obviously signposted - something like a character saying, "You didn't have many friends at school did you?" leads straight into a scene where that exact thing is playing out. A lot of films do this, but here it felt particularly blatant, as if to whisper in our ear "Just so you know, this next scene is a flashback".

Other than that, there is very little I can fault this film on. The score (by Alexandre Desplat) is simply brilliant, ranking alongside Gone Girl, Interstellar and his previous work on The Grand Budapest Hotel as the best this year.

The Imitation Game is so good I'm seriously considering watching it again when it comes out for reals on January 1st - I was able to snatch up tickets to a preview at this month's Emirates British Film Festival, in case you're wondering. It is genuinely that good. On pretty much every level.

It works as both an intriguing character study and a thrilling war drama. It has laughs, tears and character drama that fittingly still resonate today - from gay rights to freedom of information and the intelligence of man and machines. I hope that the Academy acknowledge this one in a big way come next March.

The Verdict: 9/10

The Imitation Game is an engrossing and impactful drama that excels across the board. Cumberbatch announces his arrival as a leading man, whilst the tight plotting and gorgeous direction perfectly captures the suspenseful and romantic wartime era.

The Imitation Game opens in Australia on January 1st 2015.


  1. Great review! I've been rewatching Sherlock recently, so I've been on a bit of a Cumberbatch kick.

    1. Thanks Brittani :) Awesome! Then you'll love this one, Cumberbatch is amazing in it.

  2. Top review Rhys :)
    Benedict ♡♡♡♡

    Hayley ����

  3. Great review :) I've been looking forward to this for ages and hopefully I'm going to see it tomorrow night :D
    - Allie

    1. I'm excited to hear what you thought Allie! :)

  4. I'm thrilled to hear that this is an accomplished character study. The trailer made me feel like it could go either way, but your review has definitely sold me.

    1. Thanks Alex, that's really awesome to hear. Hope you enjoy the film whenever it opens in your country.

  5. I enjoyed reading your review. Hurray to The Imitation Game and to everyone connected with it! Such a great movie!



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