Movie Review: The Imitation Game
by Jason Koenigsberg
Director: Morten Tyldum
The life of a spy is not always glamorous. They are not usually cruising the globe in Lear jets or Astin Martins wearing custom tailored suits and beautiful women at their side like 007. The Imitation Game is not a riveting spy thriller even though it is about a spy, but it is actually a very unique history lesson and an insightful character study.
The Imitation Game strives for, and achieves realism telling the true story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). Turing is a brilliant mathematician who like so many other geniuses is socially awkward due to his savant talent with mathematics and logical thinking.
The screenplay written by Graham Moore cross cuts three separate parts of Turing’s life to weave the narrative together. It opens up in 1951 where we find our main character arrested and interrogated by police (we do not know why and even when we find out I will not mention it to prevent spoilers). It also shows Turing as a loner and misfit among his peers in school in 1928. Those school scenes tie into the plot as well as develop the character and show his isolation. The heart of the picture takes place between 1939 and 1945 as Britain is being attacked by Germany and Turing works for MI-6 along with a small and exclusive group of code breakers, trying to decipher and crack German codes during World War II.
It is here where Alan Turing meets Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) and a slight romance blossoms between the two, one that reminded me of the relationships of Bill and Hilary or Franklin and Eleanor. The strongest scene in the movie occurs during a dialogue where Knightley and Cumberbatch analyze the union of marriage after a major secret is revealed by one of the characters and ends in a slap that resonates strong physical and emotional pain. I am being vague on purpose because unless you know the story of Alan Turing I would not dare give anything away and let the story evolve as you watch the film. Knightley delivers a powerful performance because it brings feminist strength into the male dominated war machine of governments.
Cumberbatch and Knightley deliver fine performances and they need to in order to carry the story and keep us emotionally involved but the supporting actors are just as good as the leads in their minimal screen time. Matthew Goode is excellent as a more handsome and well-rounded genius code breaker that rivals Cumberbatch’s Turing. Goode plays him perfectly because you never hate him since they are on the same side fighting the Nazis but you also never like him too much either. It’s just the right amount of disdain.
Charles Dance does a great job as the man who hires Turing and then tries very hard to get him fired. Particularly exceptional is Mark Strong as an intelligence operative who reports directly to Churchill and believes in Alan Turing and his methods of questionable madness involving building a machine to crack the German codes.
This picture is an insightful character study of a man and the people around him that affected millions of lives. The Imitation Game’s strongest moments explore the themes of feminism and sexuality in very interesting and sophisticated ways. It forces the audience to examine feminism and sexuality and how our societal norms may have hindered winning the war and oppressed people unfairly.
Other than the James Bond movies, filmmakers have gone out of their way to be realistic and convey how mundane and thankless espionage can be. In Spy Game (2001) we saw it’s stars Redford and Pitt sitting behind a desk pushing papers the majority of the time, in The Lives of Others (2006) we watched a man listening to conversations of strangers for two hours and in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy (2011) we followed a complex web of lies that did not really lead to much action or excitement. The Imitation Game joins that sub-genre of realistic spy films along with serving as a unique history lesson about a man and his impact helping to save lives, end World War II and influence how future wars are fought.