Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mathew Goode
Genre: Drama/ Thriller
During the darkest days of World War II a crack team of code breakers, led by genius mathematician Alan Turing work tirelessly to attempt the impossible of decoding messages sent from the German army. Though he was a genius mathematician, Turing was also a socially awkward man who lived a troubled life; struggling to deal with his homosexuality both through his difficult school years and in post-war time in which he led an isolated life.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s star has continued to rise in the last few years and deservedly so. So casting him in the role as Alan Turing seems like a total no brainer, and his performance is one of the many good things about this excellent thriller. Adopting a non-linear narrative in which we are simultaneously told about his school days, his time at Bletchley Park during the war and then his decline afterwards; The Imitation Game combines being a war-time thriller and a tragic character study extremely well to be both thrilling and involving.
The machine that Turing designed was highly complex, but Graham Moore’s script never gets too technical to bore or alienate the audience, but at the same time respects the audience’s intelligence to create a very satisfying thriller. With authentic set design, a script that makes every word count and a quick pace for the entire 114 minutes, the scenes of Turing and his team attempting to create the machine that will allow them to break the code behind enemy messages are thrilling to watch.
Character engagement always enhances any thriller, and the human drama element of The Imitation Game only serves to indeed enhance our engagement with the narrative. Turing is portrayed intentionally as a man that can be quite unlikeable due to his social inadequacies, but thanks to Cumberbatch, the tight script (that often includes intentional dry humour) and Alex Lawther’s excellent performance as the younger Aaln Turing he emerges as a deeply sympathetic character, and rightfully so considering his achievements and his contribution during World War II. The phrase ‘troubled genius’ is of course a whopping great cliché, but it fits perfectly for Alan Turing in The Imitation Game as he was undoubtedly a genius and was troubled by both his social inadequacies and his homosexuality. Homosexuality was still illegal in Britain at this time and it was this that ultimately led to Turing’s tragic downfall. This tragic element is depicted perfectly within the narrative and makes for genuinely moving viewing at times without ever verging on preachy.
All the supporting performances from the likes of Mark Strong, Mathew Goode, Charles Dance and Rory Kinnear are perfect, only enhancing the drama (Though I believe the family of the character that Dance played have complained about his depiction, but that is creative license for you!). Even Keira Knightley, in a role that is perhaps slightly underwritten, once again proves to be a good actress and likeable screen presence.
The story of Alan Turing told in The Imitation Game is a story that deserves to be told, and it is told very well from start to finish. In fact it is told almost too well, and what for me makes The Imitation Game a good film but not a great film is that it is essentially the victim of its own competence. This brings us back to the casting of Cumberbatch; the casting of him and all the other cast members is pretty much spot-on casting. If anyone of us were given the story of The Imitation Game and asked who we would ideally want cast in the roles I personally think that the actual cast list would match our answers. Each member of the cast is excellent, but predictably excellent.
Likewise the storytelling sometimes just feels too neat and too polished; I have no idea what of the more minor developments in the narrative are fact and fiction, but there are some that seem to convenient and contrived for the sake of narrative drama. Of course this being a thriller, that is necessary, but everything is just too neat sometimes. Every element of The Imitation Game including script, direction, set design and of course the casting and their note-perfect performances is indeed highly competent, but as I said before, predictably so. The fact this is a true story and a very important one perhaps saves things slightly, but every elements if the film as it is unfolding on screen almost feels too neat and tidy, although it is without a doubt a highly watchable and deeply involving from start to finish.
Maybe this is just me being outrageously (and even perhaps unfairly) critical, but for me the very best films take a risk and do something that really grabs you, and The Imitation Game though a great true story told with extreme competence just never does that. Maybe the film makers felt they didn’t need to? Is this complacency or actually justified? Well, for me it is the difference between an 8/10 and a 9/10 film.
An intelligent and involving film; with its superb performances and outstanding direction and writing, The Imitation Game combines being a war time thriller and involving human drama with the utmost competence (arguable too much competence).