2014 should really be known as “The Year of the Biopic.” There have been films this past year that were based on many world-reknown icons, from Martin Luther King to Stephen Hawking to pop singer James Brown. And somewhere in the midst of all those comes the story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician that almost single-handedly won World War II. Yet you may not hear his name up with those that were more famous at the time, as his life is also one that was marred with tragedy. The Imitation Game is a wonderful adaptation of his story, full of brilliant performances, an engaging directing style, and an exuberant soundtrack.
A unique spy thriller
For much of its length, The Imitation Game feels similar to an espionage spy-thriller, if it was also combined with a World War II epic. The primary difference from each of those, though, is that the film does not concern itself much with action or violence, but is instead shown through the eyes of one person: Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). During World War II, Turing was the head of a group of the most brilliant mathematicians, logicians, and crypto-analysts in Great Britain, who have all been assigned to a single task: breaking the Enigma code of the Germans. By breaking the code, they will immediately know where Nazi troops will attack at any given moment, giving the Allies a serious edge in the war. Despite objections from his superiors and his team alike, Turing creates an advanced machine, which would hopefully have the capacity to decrypt the code and put them one step ahead of their enemies.
From the opening credits, which twist around as if part of their own secret code, The Imitation Game sets a tense tone. The soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat is fast-paced and energetic, and director Morten Tyldum shows a strong preference for long, sweeping camera shots, often juxtaposing one scene with another happening far away. A memorable example is when Turing’s machine (nicknamed Christopher after a childhood friend), first starts to work, and we see its cogs and gears twist and turn; this is then implanted onto an intense battle scene, with German planes and U-Boats firing on British soldiers, showing that the team is literally fighting for the lives of their people. The actual battles are little-seen throughout the film, and as a result they are always powerful moments.
A masterclass in acting
Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger to playing unique and diverse characters. His range extends from Sherlock Holmes in the BBC Series Sherlock to Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness to Smaug in The Desolation of Smaug and its sequel. And even after having won an Emmy for Sherlock just this year, he has never been stronger than as Alan Turing. As Turing, he is a social skill-lacking narcissist, who struggles to connect with the outside world. He is also a brilliant crypto-analyst, and is rarely wrong with his convictions. In fact, if not for him, it is unlikely that the Enigma code would ever have been broken. Turing is also a homosexual, who attempts to keep his secret hidden due it being a punishable crime in 1940’s Great Britain.
Cumberbatch is so great in the role because he never overplays any of Turing’s eccentricities. He is awkward, but only to a point; and even with a slight stutter, still manages to have a strong, charismatic persona. Despite some Sherlock-ish tendencies of the character (narcissism being an example), Cumberbatch manages to make Turing completely distinct from anything else he has done in the past. It is the type of role that is likely (and has already) earned him acclaim during the upcoming award season.
For more supporting characters, Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, the only female member of Turing’s team. Being at a similar academic level to Turing, the two immediately connect, although, for obvious reasons, they are never romantically involved. Knightley shines among an almost primarily male cast, giving a strong performance that is also among the best of her recent career. Game of Thrones fans may also recognize Charles Dance, who plays Cdr. Alastair Denniston, the leader of the code-breakers. Matthew Goode is also quite good (no pun intended) as Hugh Alexander, another member of the team.
A tragic, yet triumphant story
The Imitation Game is a masterpiece in both acting and directing, yet it is also an inspiring story of a little-mentioned historical figure. When people think of the heroes of World War II, the first figures to come to mind will likely be that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Oskar Schindler, or any of a number of others. To be completely honest, I didn’t even know the true extent or impact of Turing’s work before seeing this film. In this case, The Imitation Game is also important as a historical lesson, casting a light on a man who was unjustly shunned just because of his sexual orientation, and by the very same people that he had helped to save during the war.
It is a sad tragedy once you discover what happened to Turing not too long after he was convicted of being a homosexual. Yet, as Joan Clarke said in the film’s last scene, his name will live on through the millions of lives that he saved. And it still lives on even now, as Turing’s early work developed into the computer that we now know and use in our everyday lives. He may be a tragic figure, but he is not one that I will easily forget.
In a year full of biopics, The Imitation Game has my vote for one of the very best. It is an expertly directed, fine-tuned work of art, with easily one of the best performances of the year by Benedict Cumberbatch. Although it may be a tough year to win awards due to some heavy competition, it is my hope that the film will at least be watched, admired, and appreciated by both history and movie fans alike.
So now I’d like to hear from you. What did you think of The Imitation Game and of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance? Let me know in the comments below!