Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Imitation Game

A complex, exceptionally realized biopic

     The Imitation Game, directed by Norwegian Morten Tyldum, has a title that works on multiple levels.  Not only does it refer to how computers can imitate thinking, but also how the British had to imitate the thinking of the Germans to break the Enigma code, and also how they had to imitate their earlier losing of
World War II by not fully revealing their knowledge and tipping off the Germans.  Most profoundly, however, it refers to how abnormal, gifted people have to try to imitate their more ordinary peers to somehow survive.

The Bletchley Park Team
     The strong script by Graham Moore – his first and based loosely on Andrew Hodges’ Alan Turing: The Enigma presents scenes from Alan Turing’s life (1912 – 1954), but focuses most of the narrative attention to his work at Bletchley Park as he and his team (Matthew Goode, Keira Knightley, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, and James Northcote) struggled to break the Enigma code.  Most significantly, they did 
The Machine
so through the construction of a machine that simultaneously mimicked the German machine and could deconstruct how the code was set.  By showing what he did, which was most important to Turing, rather than who he was, this version is superior to Hugh Whitemore’s Breaking the Code (1986).

     The movie captures the insularity of this group, but also their desperation in ending the Germans’ advances in destroying their food supply.  One of the most significant scenes ethically is whether the team should reveal what might happen to a British naval ship on which the brother of one of the team’s members serves.  I don’t know if those circumstances and the timing concerning the discovery were exact, but as a representation for the many moral decisions they had to make concerning their knowledge, it’s arresting.  Moore’s script presents a flashback structure that doesn’t confuse the viewer while also providing an armature for complex emotional shadings.

Benedict Cumberbatch
     Benedict Cumberbatch gives a technically astonishing performance not only in how he suggests Turing’s speech patterns, but also in linking his behavior to autism.  It’s there in the script, but he goes further by showing that his ‘arrogance’ had more to do with taking people’s speech literally than in his own self-regard.  It’s part of the reason that he determines tragically to be honest, rather than playing an imitation game even though Joan Clarke (Knightley) is willing to go along with it to offer him a chance at conventional contentment.  
Alex Lawther as the Young Alan Turing
Alex Lawther, as the younger Alan Turing, matches up well with Cumberbatch facially, though he must have had a growth spurt later.  He’s extraordinary in a scene with his headmaster where his eyes remain bright, but his body language shows that he has emotionally shut down and, sadly, does not open up again.  

The Bletchley Park Work Room
     The acting ensemble quietly nails the period, helped in large part by both the script and the understated art direction.  I could have done without the sea battle scenes that looked like miniatures from a ‘40s movie.  They looked fake back then as well, but black and white covered them better.  There are times where the color is purposely drained by cinematographer Óscar Faura and it looks great.  How I wish this could have been in black and white (and I feel the same way about Into the Woods).  

Mark Strong
     One side note is Mark Strong’s elegant performance as the mysterious and powerful Major General Stewart Menzies, head of the newly created MI6, and the best game player and master manipulator of the bunch.  Cumberbatch has been building up to what will be a major career, but actors like Strong (this generation’s Trevor Howard or Denholm Elliott) provide quality and competence over the long run.  I remember seeing him in a small role in Prime Suspect 3 (1994), where he was poignant and then he was malevolently intimidating in the mini-series The Long Firm (2004) as a fictional representation of the criminal Kray twins, and tensely real as the sleeper spy in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011).

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