Watch my Movie Minute Review of The Imitation Game:
Code-breaking doesn’t exactly sound like the most stimulating cinematic subject matter. As Alan Turing says late in The Imitation Game, for them, World War II wasn’t fought on a battle field, but was just a few guys sitting around in a small cottage in Southern England analyzing letters and probabilities. It’s rather stunning then that The Imitation Game ends up being one of the most engaging films of the year, mainly because there’s a lot at stake than the catastrophic war against Germany.
Based on the novel that told the real-life behind-the-scenes story of World War II, Graham Moore has constructed a fantastic screenplay. Right from the first major scene where Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) sits down for a job interview with Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), the rich dialogue just snaps. You quickly learn this is not going to be some stiff British historical drama. It’s witty and intelligent, worthy of its subject matter and its main actor.
Playing the mathematic genius who broke the German enigma code during the war, Benedict Cumberbatch embraces all his character’s eccentricities for a performance that translates to the audience as a fascinating character study while still being a “movie star” performance. Alan isn’t always likeable, but there’s many layers to the character.
Also jumping off the screen is Keira Knightley in her best performance ever. The deck is stacked in her favour before she shows up because she’s the only major female character in the film, so she stands out. To recruit more geniuses to join Alan’s team (which already includes The Good Wife‘s Matthew Goode and Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech), they put a crossword in the newspaper and anyone who can solve it under 10 minutes is invited to come for further testing. Joan Clarke is the only woman who shows up. From the second she walks in the door, she is scrutinized and told she doesn’t belong. Knightley exerts such strength and strong-will that it’s electric. In one scene, she says to Alan, “I’m a woman in a man’s job. I don’t have the luxury of being an ass”. The role requires some major charm, and Knightley delivers it in spades. She also gets some extremely powerful scenes (like a late scene where Alan tries to dismiss her), demonstrating that women had a lot of prove in the 1940s…and Joan’s journey isn’t that different from what women still experience today.
Dealing with his own struggle, Alan is a closeted homosexual. That secret deeply affects his life as he has to adapt the relationships he has around him (including being blackmailed by one of his colleagues). Once his secret is discovered after the war, Alan is arrested, sentenced for indecency, and poisoned. It’s the tragic afterlife for a war hero, and The Imitation Game makes you realize that while one great war ended, a more quiet war continued and unfortunately, still continues today. Gay rights and feminism have been major topics in pop culture in the past few years, and this film perfectly captures that struggle. It’s apparent that while we’ve come a long way, we still have a long road to go.
The Imitation Game refreshingly tells its story in 110 minutes. That’s a rarity at the end of the year when a 2 1/2 hour running time is typical for a film gunning for Oscars. This is one of the best movies of the year.