The Imitation Game has all the ingredients that make a film ripe for award season picking, it’s got: Nazi’s, underdogs, good guys winning, communists, gays, and suspense…
Receiving it’s European Premiere tonight at BFI London Film Festival, The Imitation Game tells the story of cryptanalyst Alan Turing and his rag tag team of top-secret code breakers working in Bletchley Park in the middle of WWII as they struggle to crack the enigma code. Enigma was the name given to the code that Nazi Germans used to communicate during the war, the coordinates changed daily making it extremely challenging to decode. For many the key to breaking enigma would bring an end to the war. Turing is remembered both for his successes in the field of invention, code breaking, and mathematics, but also for being a convicted homosexual at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence. If you’re at all familiar with history much of the suspense of this film and most films about WWII for that matter, is lost because, you’ll know that the Germany didn’t win. Which leads me to wonder why there aren’t more films about the Great War (WWI)- a far more complex conflict with a scant number of films depicting it, though I digress.
The film jumps back and forth in time with three story lines from different periods of Turing’s life. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a performance which varies from mad genius, to sociopath, to schizophrenic, its unclear whether these abrupt personality shifts were a directorial choice or one by the actor himself but the end result lacks cohesion. In one of her best performances, Kiera Knightly as Joan Clarke, plays a mathematical genius and Turing’s beard. Clarke- the token female character- is dressed in beautiful 1940’s suits and dresses that no woman of her social status would have had access to in the war, though they provide a nice visual contrast to the military uniforms. Charles Dance as Commander Denniston, the stereotypical humourless military superior, has many witty scenes with Cumberbatch that provided what little humour is in the film.
In a flashback scene a young Turing, gets advice from a friend in the form of an insipidly sappy line, which serves as the moral of the story. The line is not something any twelve year old would ever say as it is too profound, and not something an adult would say as its so laughably cheesy. The viewer may shrug their shoulders in allowance or roll their eyes the first time its uttered, but in-case you missed the nauseating line the first time its repeated twice more. Save your popcorn bag, you may need to re-purpose it as a receptacle for vomit.
The Imitation Game played at both the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival, and is poised to be a big success at BFI! Critics will love it, because as mentioned it has all the components that make for a great award contender. Its main fault is the story is perhaps too ambitious, trying to cover too much of the man’s life without focusing on the things that are actually interesting. The film is not without merit though somewhere along the 113 min run time it became a movie that simplifies everything from communism to homosexuality then added too much sugar to create a cocktail this viewer is praying she’ll never have forced down her throat again.