Alan Turing is, largely, one of the only reasons you are reading this sentence on a screen. He created the Turing Machine, a complex decryption device, which served as the progenitor of the modern day computer. With this device, the Allies were able to crack the infamous Nazi “Enigma Code” during World War II, giving them direct access to Nazi plans; this allowed them to anticipate Nazi actions and make the proper responses in order to mitigate the greatest amount of damage, saving millions of lives in the process. Without Turing’s massive contribution to the war effort, today the world might be very different. The Imitation Game seeks to show us how a less than sociable, yet genius cryptanalyst came to change the face of technology, and revitalize the Allies in a time of great need.
As with any biopic, though there are supporting players, there is a clear focal point to the film; this one has Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing. Cumberbatch has enjoyed a string of success in the last few years and deservedly so. He first dazzled on BBC’s Sherlock as the titular character, then played the infamous Khan in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek: Into Darkness, and most recently provided the voice and physical performance capture for the dragon, Smaug, in The Hobbit trilogy. Now, Cumberbatch takes a step back from the blockbuster, delivering an unforgettable performance as Alan Turing. Cumberbatch, though known for his more showy roles, is also capable of great depth and nuance. The pain behind Turing’s eyes and the struggle to connect with other people is extremely moving, especially with the knowledge that Turing was a homosexual in a time that was anything but tolerant. Though the movie does not focus on this aspect of his life, the unfair and tragic nature of Turing’s circumstances exists within the DNA of every scene. In the ultimate injustice, despite his incalculable contribution to his country and the world at large, Alan Turing was eventually convicted for “indecency” and was faced with either prison time or undergoing chemical castration. He chose the latter. Cumberbatch does some truly sterling work here, creating a genius completely different from his Sherlock, one more grounded and perhaps even more distinct in his thought process. He carries the film easily and it is no surprise that he has seen much acclaim thanks to this performance, though this is an extremely competitive year when it comes to the Lead Actor category.
Though Cumberbatch steals the show with his performance, Keira Knightley is just as important to the proceedings. She plays Joan Clarke, a cryptanalyst and numismatist instrumental in helping Turing crack the Enigma Code. However, due to the rampant sexism of the time, she faces obstacles at every turn. This ostracism is largely what brings her and Turing together, creating a friendship that is both endearing and heartfelt. In Turing she found a person that respected her for her intellect above all things, in Clarke, Turing found someone that listened to him, endured his differentness, and loved him anyway. Knightley, as always, is spot on, her Joan is both stark and kind in equal measure. This, along with her performance in Begin Again, has made for a very strong year for her and I am, as always, excited to see where she goes next.
As for the direction, Morten Tyldum, director of the fiendishly stylish Headhunters, does some extremely compelling work on a low budget (in comparison to other Best Picture Nominees). Though there is not a lot of footage showcasing the war at large, we are offered glimpses of what’s happening and the mounting desperation that has begun to seize the Allies. Other than that, this is largely a bottle film; Tyldum, along with a tight script by Graham Moore who had the unenviable task of streamlining Andrew Hodges’ doorstopper of a biography, creates a palpable sense of tension and frustration as Turing and company struggle to crack an unbreakable code before the Nazis overrun Europe entirely.
Overall, The Imitation Game is everything a biopic should be, compelling, informative, and memorable. Thanks to inspired direction and two wonderful performances, it fulfills all of these requirements and truly stands as one of the best films of this Oscar year. Hopefully, thanks to this film, Alan Turing will finally get the exposure and recognition he so rightly deserved in life.