Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Imitation Game

I’m sure that in some corner of the internet, people rejoice to hear that Benedict Cumberbatch plays a gay character, validating their hopes for the future of Sherlock and Watson… the internet is a weird place…

“The Imitation Game” stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley and is directed by Morten Tyldum. It focuses on the story of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who managed to crack the German Enigma code, significantly helping the Allies in WWII. Oh, and also he is gay in a time in which that was a criminal offence, so it’s kind of “Satan’s Alley” with maths, and if you understood that joke, congratulations. It definitely caught the eye of the Academy, netting eight nominations.

The story of Alan Turing is frankly amazing, there’s no doubt about that, and for some reason this is the first major film made about him. Benedict Cumberbatch, who was my major concern about this movie, is well-cast and he creates an interesting character. I was worried that he would just rehash his “Sherlock” performance, which launched a well-deserved career, but also became kind of expected of him. At this point I’ was actually not convinced that Cumberbatch has great range as an actor. And I remain unconvinced, but that does not mean that this wasn’t a great performance. Cumberbatch manages to remove Turing and Sherlock from each other, although not very far, selecting a slight stutter over Sherlock’s rapid speech. The script also moves him in the direction of Asperger’s instead of being a high functioning sociopath.

Knightley also shows acting talent that surpasses most of her performances before this, playing a smart woman that has to deal with her place in society. This helps her understanding of Turing and the two work well together.

At this point however, sadly the positives run out. As much as I enjoyed the two lead performances, I was disappointed by the script. There are two aspects of Turing’s story that make it worth telling and interesting. The fact that he was helping the world with his work as much as he did but had to hide his true personality at all times is inspiring and shocking at the same time. The revolutionary work he conducted in math and most importantly computer technology is the other aspect, and this is almost non-existent in the film. The actual logic behind the code-breaking is so scarcely hinted at that the one moment that shows us the deciding idea that makes Turing’s machine work falls flat. If we don’t know what the problem was, how are we supposed to care for the solution? “The Theory of Everything”, where the science was clearly secondary but still explained effectively, managed to balance a personal story and give us an impression of the great scientific mind that is Stephen Hawking. “The Imitation Game” goes all-out on the personal drama and neglects the mathematical genius that is Alan Turing. The math is not even that hard to explain, Numberphile on Youtube managed it in two ten-minute videos. The filmmakers could have easily cut the mostly inconsequential childhood scenes and added some more cryptography.

My second criticism is historical inaccuracies. I do not expect a movie to be one hundred percent accurate, there has to be a balance between reality and storytelling. But once again, “The Imitation Game” is unbalanced, overplaying Turing’s social problems, hinting at autism where by all accounts there was none. This also puts it in danger of enforcing the association of gay with weird, acting against the films agenda of tolerance. When the Bombe machine (which was not named “Christopher”) finally works, the film leaves reality completely, forgetting that Turing was not the only real person in this film and takes a lot of creative licence with the supporting characters. This actually happens over the course of the whole movie, in an effort to create villains within the story.

Morten Tyldum’s direction, which I am only mentioning because he got nominated for an Oscar, is mostly boring. The performances he gets from his lead characters are great, but the rest of his direction is merely standard, with not one outstanding scene or interesting shots.

All in all, the film is still good, but honestly, I think Alan Turing deserves more than a good movie, his story deserves a great movie, with a better script and a better director. I can only imagine what this film would have been with a director who actually knows how to make science and personal drama interesting, someone like David Fincher for example.

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