The Imitation Game (2014)
Directed by Morten Tyldum
I have a sneaking suspicion that people aren’t going to be mispronouncing Benedict Cumberbatch’s name much longer. In “The Imitation Game,” nominated for five Golden Globes (for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Leading Actor/Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Score), Cumberbatch gives one of those performances that shapes a career. As Alan Turing, British mathematician and computer scientist before there was such thing as a computer, Cumberbatch gives one of the most memorable portrayals of a mid-1900s British scientist we’ve seen all year. (He gives it his bloody all, but was still outdone by Eddie Redmayne’s moving and technically perfect portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything”). Cumberbatch, though, is a hell of a runner-up, and “The Imitation Game” is all the better for it.
During WWII, the Nazi forces found their advantage by encrypting their communications and keeping secret the location of their troops and the times of their planned attacks. In response, the British military called up an elite group of British mathematicians led by Turing (Cumberbatch, plus Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, and Keira Knightley) to crack the Nazi enigma code, translate their communications, and use that intelligence to win the war. But it was Turing’s personal secrets and some unforeseen bureaucratic red tape that put the whole project in jeopardy.
Maybe Cumberbatch doesn’t match Redmayne’s performance, but overall “The Imitation Game” wins 2014’s Battle of the British Biopics by a long shot (past winners include “Rush,” “The Iron Lady,” “My Week with Marilyn,” and “The King’s Speech”…in case you were wondering). Where “The Theory of Everything” tells an interesting story of Hawking’s life, “The Imitation Game” uses Turing’s story to tell a true-life John le Carré-worthy tall tale of international mystery. The script, the first written by Graham Moore, is filled with foreign intrigue, drama, and sassy nerd humor that would make Sheldon Cooper jealous.
And where “The Theory of Everything” focuses mainly on its two fantastic leads (Redmayne and Felicity Jones, also both nominated for Golden Globes), “The Imitation Game” relies heavily on several moving parts (not unlike the Turing computer that was eventually used to break the code). Nobody seems to have a problem getting into character. Maybe it’s because they were hand-picked so perfectly. Knightley, as a female mathematician at a time when those two words rarely went together, is brilliantly subtle in her role. Cumberbatch plays a glorified Sherlock Holmes, which his several nominations and one Emmy win for BBC’s “Sherlock” proves is a role he plays very well. In only his second on-screen role, 19-year-old Alex Lawther (playing Turing in flashbacks) does an excellent job of mimicking Cumberbatch’s portrayal and making the flashbacks blend seamlessly into the story. You can accept that these two men are playing the same person. If these points aren’t enough, “The Imitation Game” also gets tremendous help from its Golden Globe-nominated Alexandre Desplat score and powerful social message (which I can’t spoil).
I would have thought that only a Hollywood screenwriter could have come up with a story so entrenched in mystery and drama as the real-life story of war hero Alan Turing. That it’s rooted in fact only makes it that much better. I’m not a psychic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Imitation Game” cracks the code for major Oscar gold this March.
“The Imitation Game” is in theaters.