A World War II period biopic about some code cracker starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Period-Piece Queen Keira Knightley might earn an eye roll from the more cynical who instantly dismiss such content as “Oscar bait” — but while The Imitation Game is all of these things, it’s all of these things done quite well.
Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, a mathematician and cryptoanalyst whose work during World War II not only helped win the entire war, but was also influential in the creation and development of what you may now know as a computer. Turing was also gay, a criminal offense back in the 1940s, and he most likely suffered from some form of Aspergers — all of which factor quite heavily into this pretty remarkable tale about a man who achieved greatness at the expense of his own heartbreak and despair.
It’s another one of those real-life stories that’s been tossed around before, most notably on TV in the form of stuff like 1996’s Breaking the Code, but this time it comes served on a shiny, delectable plate full of all the guts, heart and tasty intrigue we long to devour come this time of year. Directed by relative newcomer Morten Tyldum, whose previous film Headhunters is totally worth seeking out for its smart, dark humor, The Imitation Game wisely approaches its decades-long story by breaking it up into three sections (and stories) that all play out simultaneously so that each one feeds another.
There’s the relationship Turing had with his best friend, Christopher, back when he was a bullied loner in school. We also track an adult Turing, post-WWII following a break-in at his apartment and the subsequent investigation by one police officer who believes Turing is not who he says he is. The main story, though, tracks Turing and a group of code breakers who were brought on during the war to try to crack the German’s Enigma system, which was responsible for sending out code revealing all of the German’s attack plans.
That’s where Knightley comes in, as the young female code breaker is discovered by Turing after she solves a puzzle he puts in a newspaper ad. Her story is also a fascinating one because back then it wasn’t very femalelike to, well, be a female code breaker, and the lengths they go to make sure she can be a part of it all play out in some compelling and often humorous ways. Cumberbatch’s portrayal as Turing may be the big story with this one (and he’s almost sure to land an Oscar nod for it), but Knightley is the rock that pushes Turing’s story forward, continually fighting to be part of something she shouldn’t be.
The Imitation Game is a surprisingly brainy war picture about some of the more unexpected heroes behind the scenes. It comes stuffed with terrific performances, fine period detail and a great score you’ll find yourself humming long after the credits roll (at least I did). To quote my favorite line from the film: “It is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
And I imagine you’ll really dig this one.
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