Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Alan Leech & Benedict Cumberbatch
DIRECTED By: Morten Tyldum
WRITTEN By: Graham Moore & Andrew Hodges
PRODUCED By: Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky & Teddy Schwarzman
DISTRIBUTED By: The Weinstein Company
RATED PG-13 FOR SOME SEXUAL REFERENCES, MATURE THEMATICAL MATERIALS & HISTORICAL SMOKING
THE IMITATION GAME
by Jeremy Goeckner, Head Reviewer
The Greatest Story Never Told
My favorite movies are the ones that tell a story that I have never even remotely heard of before. Whether they are true or false, those are the stories that motion picture's were made to tell. Quick, tell me who Alan Turing was... Unless you are a major WWII buff or just watch a ton of the History Channel [proudly raises hand], you probably have no idea. And that's not uncommon. Many people didn't know a thing about this man before the release of this gem of a film. And in all honesty, the best part about this film is that it leaves you hating that fact when you leave the theater.
Alan Turing and his team are considered by many to be the most important single people to ending the greatest war the planet has ever seen. The work they did in breaking the Nazi communication code shortened the war by nearly two years and marked a new era in thinking about computerized machinery and artificial intelligence. And yet, the tales of this heroic man and his team are not reaching the mainstream until now. How sad indeed.
The story of The Imitation Game centers on Turing and his work done for a secret British agency during World War II trying to break the Nazi's "unbreakable" Enimga Machine; the coding device the entire Nazi army used to communicate with during the war. Now this particular code isn't as easy as finding how the letters are scrambled and going to town on all the intercepted communications. No, the Nazi's change the settings on the machine every night at midnight, making any progress made the day before completely useless for the coming days' transmissions. And how many possible settings do they have to try in one day? Only 159 million million million. As Alan tell us in his voice-over, it would take somewhere near 20 Million years to try them all if 100 people worked 24 hours straight. The task seems a little tall.
The team of code breakers include the charming genius Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and talented cryptographers John Cairncross (Alan Leech) and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard). But it's the relationship between Turing and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) that truly sticks out in the course of the film. This isn't a typical love story that movies so often give us for obvious reasons, but the way Cumberbatch and Knightley play off of each makes it far more believable of a love story. This especially true when considering how socially awkward Alan is (the scene where he tries to be nice to his team by telling a joke is just fantastic!).
The Enigma machine is no doubt the toughest puzzle in the world, but Alan likes puzzles. Turing truly was a thinker ahead of his time. While the rest of the team toils to break the code the old fashioned way, Alan comes up with his own theory. "The problem is we're trying to beat the machine using only our minds. What if the only way to beat a machine is with another machine?" It seems so simple, but it's met with skepticism. So much so that Alan writes to Winston Churchill to be put in charge of the team so he may build the machine.
Now I could continue to give you plot points, but I'm not going to. Of course you could just go online and read a synopsis to find out, but I would encourage you not to do that. While this film is historical and this story is NOW a matter of public record (wasn't for about 60 years), part of the joy of this film is seeing how Alan and the team overcome this seemingly insurmountable task and prevail. But that is only one of the three main storylines this movie tells. There are flashbacks to Alan's school days as a boy and flash-forwards to Alan being investigated by the police many years after the war.
That might sound a little convulted but it is a testament to Moore's brilliant script and Tyldum's skill as a director that each of these three narratives compliment's each other so well. They aren't so much separate stories as they are variations on the emotions being portrayed the entire film. While watching this movie it’s very apparent that Tyldum and company aren’t simply trying to give you a stylized history lesson. This isn’t so much a story about overcoming tremendous odds to win a war as it is about overcoming our own insecurities.
Alan Turring is a fascinating character study. Undoubtedly one of the most brilliant minds of the century, he was constantly at war with himself. Whether about how he never seemed to fit in with any of the other kids or how he seemed to ostracize his entire team simply because he was a little too analytical for his own good or being a homosexual in an insanely awful time to be so.
For an actor to be tasked with portraying all this simultaneous brilliance and self-doubt is a bit of a tall order, but it’s exactly why Benedict Cumberbatch was the only choice to play it. I have not seen an actor so skilled at melding the multiple layers of a character so well since Kevin Spacey’s brilliant turn in American Beauty. Cumberbatch makes us completely believe how Alan can be so brilliant and so socially pathetic at the same time. He holds you in the palm of his hand so easily through the narratives of this film that it is sure to be the performance firmly plants him in the upper echelon of Hollywood for quite a long time.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the very solid work of Keira Knightley here as well. I’ve never thought of her as a particularly great actress. Sure, I’ve seen the glimpses like Pride and Prejudice, but for the most part I’ve simply seen her as a very pretty face that will never realize the full potential. In this film, she goes stride for stride with Cumberbatch and never gets lost in his shadow even though she probably should. She gives Joan Clarke and earnest sense of self-awareness and tact that makes her a perfect complement and foil to Turring. And that Knightley is able to make us believe it shows just how much she deserved that Supporting Actress nomination.
Some critics have blasted this movie because they feel the ending becomes too preachy and feels wrong for this type of historical drama. I couldn’t disagree more if I tried. This isn’t just a history lesson about how WWII was won. It’s more than that. It’s about all of us who feel we can offer more to this world but are so often told that we cannot for whatever reason. Before I saw this film, I honestly didn’t expect to name it my number one of the year. But like Alan tells us himself, “Sometimes it’s the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”