The Imitation Game

Directed By: Morten Tyldum

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, and Rory Kinnear

"Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."
-Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley)

Some of the best movies are the ones  in which moviegoers learn something new about how someone did something amazing that changed the world.  I know that sounds like a cliché, but that's why biographical dramas have always been awards darlings.  It's not an accident.  They're not just laudable efforts.  They're powerful history lessons crafted in the form of artful entertainment.  That's why we love these films, and that's why we elevate them above many others.  All that being said, I believe we have another one of these movies on our hands with this weekend's The Imitation Game.

British mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is, like many scholars, an anti-social person who prefers to work alone.  There's just one problem.  He won’t be able to do that at Bletchley Park where he's looking to work as a cryptographer for the military.  Under the leadership of Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) and lead code-breaker Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), Turing must learn to work with others, especially given the task with which their team is faced.  In the height of World War II, this team has been charged with cracking the code by which the Nazis are encrypting their communications.  They're tasked with solving the mystery that is Enigma.  True to his character, however, Turing opts to work on this task by himself.

Turing has a vastly different approach from his colleagues.  While Alexander is leading them to manually review and decode each intercepted message, Turing is looking to build a machine that will decipher each and every message from Enigma all day every day.  He wants to build Christopher.  Because his bold vision is not shared by Alexander or Commander Denniston, it's needless to say that Turing encounters plenty of hurdles in realizing his objective.  Simply put, no one can imagine anything of the loner mathematician.  When Turing brings Joan Clarke (Knightley) onto the team, however, he finds the person who will help him to do the things that no one can imagine.

The Imitation Game is to military strategy what Moneyball is to sports.  Classified by Great Britain for more than a half a century for good reason, Alan Turing's accomplishments are absolutely monumental.  Turing machines not only altered the course of World War II saving millions of lives but laid the foundation for the technological revolution that followed and the digital age flourishing today.  I don't take for granted the fact that I'm writing this review on an iPad, a device which could arguably be considered a descendant of a Turing machine.  It's not just the technological milestones that this mathematician achieved, however.  It's the use of statistics to determine the strategy for getting the best out of this technology.  Director Morten Tyldum has no problem highlighting this in his biographical period piece.  Moreover, The Imitation Game is a history lesson all should see.

Tyldum deftly blends witty humor and potent drama to craft a film that packs a serious punch.  Mixing scenes shot on set with archival footage and putting a bravado score from composer Alexandre Desplat to good use, Tyldum lends the film a certain historical weight that helps to put the important story being told in the right light.  At the same time, he explores the man behind the mathematician and doesn't shy away from the fact that Turing is a homosexual.  He explores the silent emotional burden this takes on Turing and the hostile, bullying culture of the era.  By showcasing all that’s wrong at this point in British history, Tyldum clearly delivers a message of tolerance with The Imitation Game.

Given his recent turns in blockbuster flicks over the last several years, we've come to expect something theatrical and menacing from the young thespian Benedict Cumberbatch.  However, his performance in The Imitation Game as Alan Turing is more akin to the shy introvert he gave us in last year's August: Osage County.  As Turing, Cumberbatch gives us an aloof, eccentric genius that's persistent and focused yet also quite fragile.  The quietly obstinate figure is tormented by his past, and it shows in every haunted look that Cumberbatch gives.   Moreover, Cumberbatch brings Turing to life once again on the big screen and gives what may just go down in cinematic history as a career-defining performance for the actor.

The supporting cast members do an outstanding job as well.  For her part as Joan Clarke, Keira Knightley gets to deliver a great deal of the film's money quotes.  More importantly, she serves as the film's moral compass and brings a much-needed warmth to the screen.  Matthew Goode delivers one slick character as Hugh Alexander and provides plenty of comic relief throughout the film.  Despite strong performances from Knightley and Goode, Charles Dance and Mark Strong are my two favorites in the film as Commander Alastair Denniston and Major General Stewart Menzies respectively.  Each has a certain prickly persona that lends itself to delivering plenty of caustic wit as well as some of the more forcefully dramatic scenes.

After The Imitation Game, the only thing I can imagine of Alan Turing is greatness.  This thoroughly entertaining and educational biographical drama doesn't miss a beat.  It's definitely one worth seeing this awards season.  The Imitation Game gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.