The Imitation Game succeeds because of plot, acting

A still from the movie in which Turing, portrayed by Cumberbatch, is restrained by officers. The movie is based in the World War II era.
A still from the movie in which Turing, portrayed by Cumberbatch, is restrained by officers. The movie is based in the World War II era.

Every secret has a price.  And that is the main idea behind The Imitation Game.

The story revolves around the anti-social math genius Alan Turing, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is recruited by the British military in an attempt to break the unbreakable Nazi Enigma code.  The actual story, however, begins years after the war when Turing suffers a burglary and the police inspector believes that he is hiding something.  The story then jumps back and forth in time from after the break in to his work in the war.

Turing works his way into leading the code-breaking group, but his cold, prickly demeanor gains him the anger of his coworkers.  It is only the quick-tempered Joan Clarke (Keira Knightly) who breaks through his rough exterior and reaches him.  Turing’s main problem, however, is that he is genius who has trouble communicating his genius.  His solution to breaking the Nazi code, for example,  is to create a machine that can break all the codes.  One of the things that the movie does incredibly well is making his idea sound insane.  It doesn’t follow the easy path of making his colleagues seem like closed-minded idiots.  Turing comes off as an impractical egg-head.  This makes the tension so much better.

But the main conflict in the story are secrets, and Turing hides a big secret, which isn’t good because the secret nature of his work makes this incredibly suspicious, and in Turing’s world, any secret kept unattended will eventually become your undoing.

Interestingly enough, those who know history know what Turing’s secret is.  And the movie reveals it halfway through, so as not to draw it out too much.  But in the world of espionage, the suspense and suspicion mounts.  And the deeper we go, the more fascinating and immersive the movie becomes.

Acting-wise, Cumberbatch is, as always, amazing.  His Turing is not someone who is just cold.  He is someone who was hurt and has erected an emotional wall.  When those walls break, it is powerful.  That being said, I feel like this character is just another variant on his famous Sherlock persona.  I’d like to see him play something completely against that type, that doesn’t detract from the power of his performance, this is however, just a personal preference.

The rest of the supporting cast is also excellent.  Knightly gives one of her best performances, even though, like my note about Cumberbatch, I would have liked something a bit out of her normal range.  I am also very happy that Charles Dance is getting a lot more work nowadays.  He plays the main interior adversary to Turing, Commander Denniston.  I have liked him as an actor for a long time and I’m glad people are recognizing his talent.  Mark Strong also does an excellent job as a mysterious MI6 agent.

But make no mistake, this is Cumberbatch’s movie and he runs with the material as best he can.

Director Morten Tyldum does a excellent job of pacing the story and adding layers of secrets along with unexpected twists.

Now a film about an incredibly smart man designing a machine that changed the course of history is hard to dislike. While there are a few things that The Imitation Game does right, like Cumberbatch’s winning and sensitive performance, and the production design that renders the chilly atmosphere of England in WW2. Plus it’s a great story to tell. Unfortunately Hollywood, as expected. manages to commit the same mistake that most biopics do: being too simplistic. It’s curious that three Hollywood films releasing this week have the same common strand of drawbacks – they’re all biopics and are all scrubbed clean to make their protagonists more sympathetic.

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 (Or at the vert least, the Brutish people) . 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.

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.

Going back on 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 an engrossing and impactful drama that excels across the board. Cumberbatch announces his arrival as a leading man, whilst the tight plot and gorgeous direction perfectly captures the suspenseful and romantic wartime era.