This one I recommend.

This one I recommend.

Powerfully made; interesting

Powerfully made; interesting

Apparently making movies based on famous scientists was the way to go in 2014. With the success of both this film and James Marsh‘s The Theory of Everything, based on the life of Stephen Hawking, it’s almost excusable that there are still people out there who want to see the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. The Imitation Game is specifically about Alan Turing, the pioneering mathematician and cryptanalyst who lived as a homosexual man in the United Kingdom at a time when being just that was criminalized, and essentially invented that which we today call computers.

imitating ninjas

Turing’s team with an Enigma machine. Looks like he’s onto something.

I first heard the name when I read Neal Stephenson‘s cyberpunk novel Cryptonomicon in ninth grade, and have since caught up on a few things about the man’s true story. The one we see in this film, I can therefore point out, isn’t always entirely similar to the aforementioned truth, but I’ve come to expect these things from biographical cinema.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing as he’s hired in 1939 by Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) to travel to Bletchley Park, where he’s placed in a cryptography team which consists of Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard), and eventually, a strikingly clever woman named Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). The team is told by MI6 agent Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) that the their task is to decrypt the Nazi Enigma machine, an enciphering device with which Turing, as he points out in his initial interview with Denniston, is well familiar with. He doesn’t, however, play by the same rules as the rest of his team, as he spends less time trying to decrypt messages and more time trying to build a huge machine, which he believes will hold the key to decoding Nazi messages instantly, thus winning them the war! Aside from Joan, few of his increasingly impatient colleagues remain fully supportive.

As we know, Turing turns out to be completely right, but as we also know, his extraordinary discoveries, celebrated though they are today, would come to mean very little to his homeland when they learned of his sexual orientation, which caused his entire life to go straight to Hell. The film sometimes jumps ahead in time to an interrogation Turing has with a policeman played by Rory Kinnear, where his explanations of how his actions and truly revolutionary inventions helped end World War II seem to have little relevance next to his so-called crime.imitata

Today, owning a computer is standard and we’ve even renamed Turing’s classic “imitation game”, which is what he called it when one would ask someone/something a series of questions to tell if they/it were a human or a machine, into the “Turing test”; a term which today is commonly associated with A.I. research. It is a tragedy indeed that such an influential person would have to be what he was under such bigoted circumstances.

On the subject of historical accuracy, people have already berated this film a considerable share, even to the point of there being a website dedicated entirely to the film’s factual errors. It is obvious that a great number of the changes were done in order to play up the film’s drama and tug on the audience’s heartstrings, like Turing being too much of a socially awkward and seemingly autistic nerd than he was in reality, him naming his Engima-breaking machine after his old friend Christopher instead of “Victory”, and Denniston being portrayed as a villainous figure, as if to say that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis aren’t enough. It’s arguable whether or not these changes and personality alterations were necessary. I’m sure a film about a man as unfortunate as Alan Turing would be sad enough without adding drama.

I also believe the film would still have been as powerful as it is if they had simply left out all the scenes that depict actual war, mostly because they aren’t needed to propel the story forward, but also because the CGI used for them looks only moderately better than SyFy channel material. Of course, this isn’t a film about visual effects so it doesn’t really matter how they look, but that makes me wonder even more why it was even attempted.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in 'Imitation Game'.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in ‘Imitation Game’.

Let us, however, be fair and recognize that this is still a very good and, obviously, well acted film. Cumberbatch carries the film skillfully and, as you’re most probably aware, his work earned him a spot amongst this year’s line-up of Academy Award nominees. Of course everyone that owns a Tumblr thinks that he should totally win the Oscar; no questions asked or allowed. I don’t know if they’ve seen Birdman or The Theory of Everything or much of anything else from the nominations line-up that would allow comparisons, but I will say that Cumberbatch is among the ones I’m most rooting for this year (the child actor who plays young Turing isn’t too bad either). My favourite performance of 2014 overall was of course J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, but since that was a supporting role, I don’t think Simmons will steal much of anything from good ol’ Benedict at the Oscars (at least not this year).

Keira Knightley, who earned her own Oscar nom for this film, is also a great and lovably supportive female lead, and as a Game of Thrones fan, I’m always happy to see the wonderful Charles Dance in a movie, especially when the movie in question isn’t Dracula Untold. Many of the supporting actors, like Mathew Goode and the rest of Turing’s team, all complement the cast in an effective manner too, which only helps you get into the film more, even if all the rising tension and nice music, courtesy of Mr. Alexandre Desplat, doesn’t already have you plenty immersed.

I highly recommend The Imitation Game. It’s a well-made story about a truly fascinating genius, and it will surely suck you in with its gripping and intense storyline and its powerful performances, which are no doubt some of the best ones of last year. Speaking of 2014, since this film was released here in 2015 and since this is when I first went to see it, I’m foreseeing that this will be another instance of me putting a film from the wrong year on my annual “Best Films of 201x” list. Don’t I just suck at this sometimes?

4/5 whatever

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