Movie Review: The Imitation Game [2014]

You might read some spoilers here

Back in 1940s, world's one of the best mathematician's and not the world savior, yet, Alan Turing created a very simple game, which had three players male, female and the interrogator, who was unable to see the other two and only communicated with them through notes. The idea was to guess which of those two was a man and a woman. And he called this game The Imitation Game. Later, before suicide at the age of 41, based on this earlier work, Alan created a standard Turing test, which only included the interrogator and other party, which either was a person or a computer. In between these two, he saved our grand parents' lives by assembling first computer machine and decrypting unbreakable Enigma that Germans used for all communications during WWII.

Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game is a story of this man, who saved more lives than probably anyone in history and who actually made it happen that now I'm writing the review on my PC and you're reading it. 

To begin with, I did not find The Imitation Game to be simply a biographic movie, it's rather complex, detail oriented story of morality, of heroism and of what really matters in life, on the example of one particular brilliant mind - British mathematician Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Because of its many layers, the film starts with voice over of Alan, urging someone (a policemen interrogating him? or the viewers? or both?) to listen carefully, to pay attention and if you decide to stay, than everything is your responsibility. I found the start very intrigue, as if it prepared for something very big, very deeply emotional and satisfactory. 

The Imitation Game travels in time multiple times, during almost two hours. It starts with Alan Turing being in an interrogation room, which obviously happens when the WWII is over, then goes back to the time of his work at Bletchley Park and sometimes further - to his childhood. Seeing him in three different times and situations, helps to discover a character of many layers - a socially awkward genius, who is the most caring asshole you can imagine. And if these antonyms does not match in your mind, beware, Alan will absolutely convince you that it's possible.

We meet Mr. Turing in his lab, at his house, which was just robbed, working with some chemicals and he is instantly introduced as a work dedicated person, who cares less about other's opinions and is extremely pragmatic. Then the scene switches to his interview with Commander Denniston (Charles Dance of Game of Thrones),who's looking for smart people to do some extremely confidential work. And here Alan becomes even more awkward and smarter the same time. Whole dialogue is a battle of two different minds and personalities, where Benedict's character is a determined, super intelligent person, who exactly knows what he capable of is. He gets the job with one word Enigma and joins a group of scientists working on decoding German messages. The team includes Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode of The Good Wife), John Cairncross (Allen Leech) and others. Basically, what they do is checking 159 million, million, million (18 zeros) code variations in exactly 18 hours, which sounds and is impossible. That's why, Alan decides to create a machine that reads every message, every day, instantly. It takes almost 2 years of mistrust, fights and number of speeches to convince everyone that the machine will work.

Graham Moore's screenplay is smart enough to tell a story of Turing and the same time deliver a lot about the life in the Great Britain that time, stressing out some important problems and moral dilemmas. Much has been told how inaccurate the story of Alan is, that it almost forgets about his sexuality, or troubles and that other characters, like Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) or Hugh Alexander were shown in different point of views. The least may be truth, but I will never adjoin the complaints about homosexuality. Because whoever's life we talk about, their sexual life is not much relevant and especially if the movie is about one of the greatest scientist of XX century. The Imitation Game tells enough on Turing's troubles because of his orientation, but never defines his character as a result of it. In fact, the last scene is only about a "gay Alan" and his suffers. Basically, I found the screenplay very well written, with really smart and interesting lines and especially those of Cumberbatch's character. They are witty, somehow funny and very natural. Each dialogue precisely defines the true self of Alan. Even though he always behaves like a really bad guy, in heart, he is extremely caring and friendly, just in a different way.
Though Joan Clarke - a young brilliant scientist - Moore's screenplay shows the struggles of women in the last century. The scene where she is not believed to solve the newspaper puzzle by herself is masterful and the way Joan reigns over everyone in the room almost made me applause. But true message, in my opinion, is the morality of war. When the group decode German messages, they have a choice - either make it public and save everyone under imminent threat, which means Germans change the communication system and Alan's work is useless, or let Germans continue killing and just prevent mathematically calculated maximum number of human losses. The latest is a smart decision, but it also means that these scientists should decide who lives and who dies, but it also guarantees to win the war. They choose winning the war. Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard) who's hardy worked in the team goes against this idea, because his brother is on the cargo ship which is just going to be bombed by enemies. While he knows it, there is nothing he can do and he finally makes a decision to choose something else over his brother's life. It's a great scene in the movie and it's so thrilling to see how everyone goes against Alan's decision to keep it secret, but then how those people tend to agree, because he is right and pragmatic.

The final interview with policemen is a final chapter of Turing's personality. Alan is accused of Gross Indecency and he plays his imitation game with detective, answering all his questions and when everything is over, he asks: "Now tell me, am I a machine, am I a  person, am I a criminal, am I a war hero". Detective Robert Nock responds that he can not judge and I think this is where the film questions values of society. Can we judge people without knowing them and especially based on their sexuality?

Director Morten Tyldum transforms the whole drama from words to the screen. He crafted story with cast of masters and threw us in the era of enigma, making the viewers emotionally attached to every decision or action of main characters. And you will feel that when Enigma machine decodes the first message. It just gave me goosebumps. Morten's work with camera is enough reason to praise him, the vision how he shows us things, the production design and some beautiful shots. He has made a movie that is both eye candy and smart.
However, the reason most people will remember The Imitation Game is two outstanding performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. It's arguably Benedict's best performance so far, even better than Sherlock. There are some similarities between Turing and Holmes, both are bad at people, both are socially awkward, so it could not have been easier for him to portray Alan. But he does something extraordinary here, expressing his character in every his word, look and nerve. His brilliant performance made possible to feel the despair of character in the last scene, where Turing is already on medication. While Keira's character does not have such emotional scenes, she still is mind-blowing bringing Joan to the screen. There is one scene, where Knightley is exceptional and perfectly shows strength of Clarke - where Alan breaks up with her and she gives a speech how strong she is and that she will not give others chance to ruin her life.

The rest of cast does equally good job, from Charles Dance to Mark Strong, who plays head of MI6 special unit, in between including Matthew GoodeAlex Lawther - young Alan Turing and Matthew Beard. Even though Goode was amazing here, I'm still waiting for his time to shine, because he's damn great actor.

Movie is technically well done with great production design, cinematography, costumes and editing. Oscar winner editor William Goldenberg (Argo) cuts the scenes so that it feels well paced and never gets boring. Cinematographer Oscar Faura (The Machinist) captures some beautiful shots of destroyed city, battle field and Bletchley Park.

In conclusion, The Imitation Game is a masterful work in every way that I will remember for a long time because of its technical and creative excellence. 

2 comments:

  1. So glad you liked it this much! I loved Knightley here - so many people say she did nothing which is a common criticism for natural performances, she did so much people just don't get it. She played such a wonderful person, with all that strength yet Knightley managed to show the feelings of loneliness, shyness and fear so well with such naturalism

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  2. Well, honestly, I more love the natural performances, like Keira had. She did not have big emotional moments, or something really juicy material, but she had a character who was determined and extremely interesting. She did one of my favorite performances this year.

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