Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Imitation Game

Title:The Imitation Game

Could You Pass The Turing Test? I do have steel screws in my ankle, so I'm practically RoboCop.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half Leons from Blade Runner out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Genius mathematician breaks enemy code, gets shit on by government for his troubles.

Tagline: "Behind every code is an enigma."

Better Tagline: "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: In the dark days of World War II (before America went over and won the war single-handedly), Allied supply convoys bound for England were routinely ravaged by Nazi U-boats. Key to stopping this was the breaking of the German Enigma code. Enter Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), leading a group of MI6-recruited code breakers including sole woman (and Turing's eventual wife) Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Unfortunately for Turing, his accomplishments were later deemed secondary to his sexual orientation, since "indecency with a male" remained illegal in the UK until 1967.

"Critical" Analysis: The Imitation Game is a very good movie, that's an average calculation, because it's two-thirds adequate, one-third phenomenal.

The "adequate" portion consists of just about everything up to the breaking of the code by the team at Bletchley Park (there are also flashbacks to Turing's childhood), most of which is standard biopic stuff. Turing and company -- including Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander -- experience setbacks, false starts, and various personality conflicts, largely caused by Turing's utter lack of interest in making friends. But apart from Cumberbatch's performance and a few chuckles courtesy of Goode, what director Morten Tyldum gives us is perfectly competent, if not always stirring cinema.

This changes after Enigma is broken. For the first time, the group has to move to theory to application, realizing that even though they've solved the greatest cryptographic problem of all time, they're unable to tell more than a handful of people, and can't even use the information to save British troops as that would tip off the Germans that their transmissions were being decoded.

But the most powerful scenes come after the war, in the 1950s, when Turing is arrested (and ultimately convicted) for homosexual behavior. His treatment is appalling, as Clarke comes to the grim realization -- which Turing has known all along -- that the life of a "poofter" was one not worth acknowledging, even by the government he helped save from annihilation.

Much of the goings-on at Bletchley and in Hut 8 have been excised/modified to make the narrative more sinewy, but early hardships suffered by Turing as a schoolboy as well as the difficulties he encounters with not just British military leadership (in the person of Game of Thrones' Charles Dance) but his own co-workers help complete our portrait of the man, and Cumberbatch gives a performance that is, by turns, awkward, triumphant, and heartbreaking.

If there's a real complaint here, it's the way Tyldum insists on presenting the latter era investigation into Turing as a whodunit: i.e. was Turing a spy? Regardless of your knowledge of actual events, the diversion is unnecessary, and attempts to throw a dramatic curve ball where none is needed.

There are quite a few movies coming out this holiday season, and in my opinion The Imitation Game is the best of the bunch. Engaging, touching, and heavy with real-world consequences, it's a hell of a story.

Then again, I haven't seen The Interview yet, so who knows?

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar