THE IMITATION GAME
(director: Morten Tyldum; screenwriters: Graham Moore/based on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges; cinematographer: Oscar Faura; editor: William Goldenberg; music: Alexandre Desplat;; cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke), Matthew Goode (Hugh Alexander), Rory Kinnear (Detective Robert Nock), Allen Leech (John Cairncross), Matthew Beard (Peter Hilton), Ilan Goodman (Keith Furman), Charles Dance (Commander Denniston), Mark Strong (Stewart Menzies), Laurence Kennedy (Headmaster), Alex Lawther (Young Alan), Jack Bannon (Christopher Marcom), Tuppence Middleton (Helen), Jack Tarlton (Charles Richards); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Nora Grossman/Ido Ostrowsky/Teddy Schwarzman; Weinstein Co.; 2014-US/UK)
“A conventional but first-rate spy thriller.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The title is derived from a test the Brit prodigal mathematician and WWII codebreaker Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) created to determine the difference between artificial intelligence and human intelligence.
The English-language debut for Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum (“Buddy”/”Headhunters”) is a conventional but first-rate spy thriller that he skillfully directs. It’s brilliantly written by first-timer Graham Moore, who bases the screenplay on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges.
In 1939, the haughty 27-year-old Turing, an anti-social loner genius Cambridge grad and math professor, becomes part of a top-secret team in the London countryside trying to break the unbreakable German Enigma code (an electro-mechanical rotor machine reset each day at midnight, leaving the impossible task of hundreds of millions of combinations to decode). The group work secretly in Hut 8 in Bletchley Park, under the command of the no-nonsense Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), who openly detests the unfriendly Turing but thinks his skills in cryptography may be a new way at handling the unsolvable problem. Also overlooking the project is the politically adept MI6 agentStewart Menzies (Mark Strong), who slyly allows a soviet double-agent to operate so he can help his country maintain good relations with his Russian allies.
When Turing refuses to work under the team leadership of the smoothie national chess champion Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and insists on purchasing an expensive machine as the only way to overcome Enigma, he’s fired by his immediate boss Denniston only to be reinstated as the de facto team leader after he writes to Winston Churchill. When in charge, Turing holds an open competition based on crossword skills and hires Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) as the lone woman in the group. After a few years of floundering, Turing finally has his day due to a random conversation he has with a Wren typist (Tuppence Middleton) on how to engage with a machine.
There are key flashbacks throughout. One is during Turing’s boyhood school days at the exclusive Sherborne School, where he’s bullied for being so different but finds warmth with fellow student Christopher Morcum (Jack Bannon). We learn that Alan’s love of cryptography was because of Christopher and that they were secret homosexual lovers.
The film opens with math professor Turing in 1951 being questioned by the Manchester police over a house burglary, where things are messed up but nothing is taken. The curious police detective Nock (Rory Kinnear) finds something fishy about the burglary and his investigation leads to the arrest in 1952 of Turing for being a homosexual. The film becomes dark as it shows the unknown military hero who broke the code that shortened the war to save millions of lives arrested for “gross indecency” stemming from his affair with a 19-year-old male drifter that broke an archaic Victorian law prohibiting homosexuality. At the age of 41, Turing committed suicide.
Though it simplifies Turing’s complex life, it tells us enough about the brainy but difficult man and the little known Enigma operation to be a compelling biopic. It further helps that the performance by Cumberbatch and the ensemble cast were superb.
REVIEWED ON 3/28/2017 GRADE: B+