The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company, PG-13)

film imitation-game_smThere’s a high degree of forced and borderline silly conflict here, which doesn’t sit well given the dramatic reality of the story.

 

 

 

film imitation-game

We get one every year: a Harvey Weinstein–backed Best Picture grab. Sometimes they achieve their intended purpose (The King’s Speech, The Artist); sometimes they don’t (August: Osage County); sometimes they’re actually really good movies (Django Unchained); and sometimes they’re not (Nine). The Imitation Game is this year’s, and it has all of the tropes of stereotypical Oscar fodder: British, true story, period piece, much emoting, good. But above all else, generic.

This isn’t to imply that The Imitation Game is a waste of time; quite the opposite. It works very well, and I would imagine that the vast majority of people who see it will like it. In its own way, though, its willingness to please everyone and its ability to actually do so is one of its greatest liabilities, as well. In seeking to be inoffensive, it glosses over some more important themes that it could have, and probably should have, tackled.

The true story upon which The Imitation Game is based is that of Alan Turing, the wunderkind who broke the Nazi’s supposedly unbreakable Enigma Code during World War II. Turing was in his early 30s when he did it, not to mention laying the groundwork for computers as a whole in the process (which work he had begun some years before joining the Enigma-breaking team). But by his early 40s, he was convicted for being a homosexual, then a crime in Britain, and this conviction had a devastating effect on the remainder of his life.

Turing here is played by the omnipresent Benedict Cumberbatch, whom I like just fine as Sherlock, but in most other roles hasn’t done it for me. He’s good as Turing, though, as is the rest of the cast, which is populated by people like Keira Knightley as Joan Clark, a coworker and potential love interest for Turing, were he straight; Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander, Turing’s biggest competition in the race to break Enigma; Charles Dance as Commander Denniston, Turing’s overseer; and Mark Strong as Stewart Menzies, the person most able to see Turing’s intelligence hiding beneath his social ineptness.

But then, there’s a high degree of forced and borderline silly conflict here, which doesn’t sit well given the dramatic reality of the story. For example, in his efforts to crack Enigma, Turing builds a machine, while everyone else is trying to do it with pencil and paper, like cavemen. After countless months (years?) and lots of money trying to get the thing up and running, he gets it operating, and everyone’s waiting to see if it will actually work. After waiting an hour or two, Commander Denniston gets impatient and decides to pull the plug, nearly destroying the machine; the timing of this doesn’t begin to make sense, and hurts the film’s credibility.

That’s but one example of that sort of needless fudging; the film has plenty more to offer. More troubling is how the film handles Turing’s sexuality, though, which is a strong undercurrent and pivotal to the story. God forbid that a movie you want mainstream audiences to see handles homosexuality in any direct way, though, so it’s mostly swept under the rug. In flashback, we find a young Turing (Alex Lawther) become fond of a schoolyard friend, but beyond that, The Imitation Game only gives Turing a female romantic lead, not a male one, and only addresses the fact that he’s gay as infrequently as possible, given the circumstances. And once his career is destroyed, the film immediately flashes back to a happier moment from Turing’s past and then goes to credits; this way, leave the theater not thinking about what we did to him, but instead what he did for us.

All the same, Turing’s biography is one that is not as well-known as it seems like it would be, given his importance to modern civilization in just about every conceivable capacity. In that regard, it’s nice to have a functional film like The Imitation Game to introduce him to heretofore ignorant people. And that’s your happy note to end this review on, instead of dwelling on the things that are wrong with the film. | Pete Timmermann

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