The Imitation Game (2014)

This is a film that’s been poised on my ‘Must See’ list for a good long while now, ever since it’s theatrical release. Every time the option to throw it on came up, some excuse (usually mine) would arise, usually mood-related, and we’d move on, much to my girlfriend’s frustration. But this weekend…the time had come. On a dull Friday night, we fired it up.
As any reader of some of my past film reviews can attest to, I’m a sucker for a good World War 2 film. Always have been. There’s just something about the era, the circumstances, the settings, and the gear that attract me to that turbulent, history- changing 6 year period from the last century; 1939 – 1945. So it was primarily on that level that I was intrigued by this one, as the concept of the code-breakers of the time being fascinating to me, if not completely understood (math idiot, that I am). Then there’s the other element of the story, that being the disgraceful persecution of homosexuals back in The Day (though it can be realistically argued that we’re no where near the level of societal tolerance that we should be)…regardless of their achievements and contributions to the world. Having known several gay men and women over the years and effortlessly accepting them for who they are, not WHAT they are, I was also curious about the ‘human interest’ aspect of the narrative. And then there’s the cast. Seriously, with names like Benedict Cumberbatch (‘Sherlock’), Kiera Knightly (‘Domino’), Matthew Goode (‘Watchmen’), Mark Strong (‘Kick Ass’), Rory Kinnear (‘Skyfall’), and Charles Dance (‘Alien 3’) turning up to breath life into this dramatic period piece, how can you go wrong? Seriously…how? In my opinion, they didn’t and I got what I was expecting, and hoping for, from this cast.
‘The Imitation Game’ is primarily the story of brilliant but awkward mathematician ‘Alan Turing’ (Benedict Cumberbatch), who was basically the inventor of what we now know as a ‘computer’, told in a non-linear fashion. We start in London, circa 1951, as police, led by a ‘Detective Nock’ (Rory Kinnear) respond to an alleged break-in at the shy and people-weary genius’ house. Something about his interactions with the suspicious ‘Turing’ prompt the detective to begin investigating the man a bit closer, in large part due to a timely national fear of possible Soviet secret agents. We then flash back to the 1920’s, when Turing was a boy at prep school, where we see his affinity for numbers and code…as well as a blossoming affection for his only friend, a kindly boy named ‘Christopher’, who’s friendship and tragic end would cause ripples in ‘Turing’s existence for years to come. After delving into this chapter of the man’s life, we catch up with him as an adult, in 1939 as Winston Churchill officially declares war on Nazi Germany, who’s Asperger-like manner of interaction has a tendency to instantly put people on edge. Convinced of his own genius, he presents himself to ‘Commander Dennison’ (Charles Dance) as the solution to the ENIGMA problem the Allies were facing. ENIGMA was the brilliant cipher machine developed by the German’s that transformed their military radio transmissions into an unbreakable numerical mush. To reinforce this, we’re shown quick montages, intercut with actual ‘news reel’ footage from the period, of successful Luftwaffe bombing campaigns as well as one of the most deadly weapons in the Nazi arsenal, the U-Boat ‘wolfpacks’, which sent a frightening number of men and supplies to the cold, dark bottom of the North Atlantic, and nearly choked Britain into submission as a result. ‘Dennsion’, despite his barely-masked aversion to ‘Turing’ as a person, agrees to allow ‘Turing’ to join his small team of code-breakers at the covert research facility, ‘Hut 8’ at Bletchley Park, in Buckinghamshire, led by cryptanalyst ‘Hugh Alexander’ (Matthew Goode). ‘Alexander’, though not as brilliant as ‘Turing’, was also an academic of an impressive order who just happened to be FAR more acclimated to comfortably dealing with people, especially the ladies. After determining that the team needs to be shaken up, ‘Turing’ arranges for a specific crossword puzzle to be printed in the paper and any one who cracks it, is welcome to partake in the next phase of recruitment. Into this comes ‘Joan Clarke’ (Kiera Knightly); an impressive analytical mind in her own right, who must deal with the rigors of out-in-the-open sexism to get her potential across. As these personalities, wrangled by a mysterious agent from MI6, ‘Steward Menzies’ (Mark Strong), all gel and clash as they try desperately to discover an effective counter to the frustratingly impenetrable German code traffic, ‘Turing’ pushes forward with his own questionable notion of a computing machine that will be able to cut through the Nazi codes and put the Allies on an equal footing with their determined enemy. Threaded through all of this, is ‘Turing’s suppression of his masked homosexuality, and his struggles with it.
‘The Imitation Game’ is a very well-made film that tells a vital story not just for the WW2 aspect, but also in helping further the awareness of the nauseating and shameful treatment that gay men and women have endured for FAR too long. The idea of being forced, by an ignorant and hateful society, to hide who you truly are, who you were born as, is a horrible concept that, as a ‘straight’ man, I’ve thankfully never had to endure. But I have heard enough first-hand accounts to truly sympathize with the plight, and while it’s undeniable that we’ve made great strides in tolerance…we’re still not quite there. What’s even worse, in this particular ‘story’, is that Alan Turing’s contributions to the war effort and, by extension, the world as a whole were shoved aside and only the perceived ‘indecency’ of his deviant lifestyle came to dominate people’s perceptions of him after he was ‘outed’, not the fact that he and his dedicated team of nerds contributed to a HUGE portion of the Allied victory in Europe.
As I mentioned earlier, the cast for this film is brilliant. Every single performance was great, in my opinion, especially from Cumberbatch in the lead. By now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the man has more than proven that he’s a supremely talented thespian. His performance as ‘Turing’ was amazing and surprisingly emotional. I’ll admit that, at first, I was skeptical when they were demonstrating his alienating people skills, as I saw that this could easily just turn into a facsimile of his awesome turn as ‘Sherlock Holmes’, from the always-entertaining BBC series ‘Sherlock’. While similarities can be spotted and called out, his ‘Turing’ does come to be his own as the narrative plays on. Supporting him is the excellent cast I listed off at the beginning and to itemize each of their performances would take forever, as there’s a lot of note-worthy aspects to the varied portrayals. Just suffice it to say that they’re ALL solid and help bring weight to the already weighty story.
On a technical level, this film works well. The period trappings and the admittedly brief snippets of bomb damage to areas of London and the surrounding neighborhoods felt convincing, and helped ‘sell’ the desperation and the danger of the situation. If I had to throw out a complaint, I’d say that the limited budget for the actual war sequences betrayed itself several times. Scenes showing a U-Boat ‘wolf pack’ ambush on Allied shipping and the Blitz attacks on London did come off like cut-scenes from a video game. They weren’t terrible, but they also were no where near as convincing as they could’ve / should’ve been.
Another element that some viewers MAY have issue with is the non-linear narrative. While I was able to follow the story they were telling, it does jump around a lot, zipping unpredictably between his childhood in the 1920’s, his adult years of WW2, and the police investigation 6 years after, and that could get on people’s nerves.
All in all, I’m glad we were able to FINALLY get around to watching this one. I found it to be a ‘moving’ and educational flick, that sat with me for a good while after the final credits had rolled. When they give historical information at the end, especially about Turing’s ‘disgrace’ and eventual, tragic fate due to societies unfounded fears and prejudices about his lifestyle, I was legitimately sad for the man…and disgusted by Man. Movies like this NEED to exist, as there are far too many ignorant shit-heads out there who feel that the persecution and prosecution of those in the LGBT community is somehow justified. Just to clarify: VICTIMIZING THOSE FOR HOW THEY WERE BORN, WHEN THEY’RE NOT HURTING ANYONE, AND ARE JUST LOOKING FOR A PERSON-TO-PERSON ‘CONNECTION’ LIKE THE REST OF US, MAKES YOU IGNORANT, DANGEROUS, AND EVIL. YOU ARE NOT WORTHY OF THE TITLE OF ‘HUMAN’, IF THIS IS YOUR DISEASED AND DISGUSTING POINT OF VIEW. Now that THAT’s out of the way, ‘The Imitation Game’ was a solid, historical drama about a very important man, at a very important time, who’s accomplishments and downfall both resonate in the world we live in today. Some small technical gripes aside, I think that it’s a relevant film, that’s very competently put together and bolstered by some fantastic acting, that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, as it does contain a message that NEEDS to reach more people if we ever hope to live in an equal, accepting, and tolerant society.

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