The year is winding to a close, and you know what that means: Oscar bait season! Yes, it’s that glorious time of the year when we all try to wash the taste of the latest Transformers nonsense out of our brains and Get Serious. And nothing says ‘awards season lock’ quite like a biopic about a tortured genius front-loaded with highly respected British actors, and so we have The Imitation Game (see also: The Theory of Everything).
The Imitation Game moves back and forth through the life of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician recruited to help break the Nazis’ nigh unbreakable Enigma code during World War II. We catch up with him at three pivitol moments: in the 1950s, when he’s being investigated by an overly eager police inspector who thinks he’s dealing with a Soviet spy here (surprise! he’s not.); during the war, as he labours alongside his fellow codebreakers to figure out the ultimate puzzle and invent the first supercomputer; and during his schooldays, when he meets his one and only friend, Christopher. Anyone familiar with this type of film shouldn’t be surprised that Turing has some issues to grapple with. If his depiction is in any way accurate, Turing almost certainly had some serious form of Asberger’s at the very least. He’s clearly incapable of interacting with other people in the conventional way, but we’re all willing to overlook that, because he’s brilliant.
The film is decent. It’s beautifully shot and very, very well acted (not surprising, considering the cast). Benedict Cumberbatch is to be commended for his performance–he manages to give this difficult man enough humanity and vulnerability to make the audience actually like him, and he’s definitely capable of carrying the film as a leading man. But the film itself is a very straightforward, by-the-book biopic. If you’ve seen A Beautiful Mind, you’ve essentially seen this film, just replace ‘schizophrenia’ with ‘autism’ and ‘game theory’ with ‘Nazi code’ and you’re essentially there. Co-workers who think the main character’s weird but put up with it because he’s amazing? Check. Token chick? Check. Life-changing best friend? Check. Random person gives main character brilliant lightbulb moment? Check. This film is almost self-consciously ticking all the boxes for films of this type.
Which isn’t to say it’s bad. It’s not. I’d just say it’s rather average, though at times it hits the cliches so hard I found myself cringing (an ‘if you fire Alan you’ll have to fire me too’ scene? Really?!). There were also a few moments of mind-boggling idiocy: at one point Alan and Joan meet with an MI-6 agent in an occupied London cafe to discuss their super top secret work and the fact that they need to sacrifice English lives to keep the Enigma break a secret. The film also takes a sudden left turn into espionage territory at the 11th hour, but it never really goes anywhere. And I’ll be honest, I felt like Keira Knightley was wasted. She got one good scene but was otherwise essentially the ‘token girl’ (curiously, no mention was ever made of the other woman, Rosalind Hudson, who also worked in Hut 8. But then, the staff of codebreakers was very much trimmed down for the film, which is to be expected.) But overall, it’s an enjoyable couple of hours that will probably get more than a few people interested in the work that was done at Bletchley Park during the war. And for us lovers of costume dramas, it is a bit of a kick to watch Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch really has found his niche playing these oddball geniuses, hasn’t he?) get recruited by Tywin Lannister to join Tom Branson, Anna Karenina, and George Wickham to help beat the Nazis. And Mark Strong actually doesn’t play a bad guy! How refreshing!
Final Verdict: ***1/2 out of ***** Well acted, but predictable