Overview: Following the UK’s declaration of war against Germany, a group of cryptanalysts led by mathematician Alan Turing create the first digital computer in order to break the German military’s coded messages and put an end to WWII. With the lives of many in his hands, Turing is placed between the logic and emotion that governs his life. Distributed by Studio Canal/The Weinstein Company. 2014; Rated PG-13; 114 minutes
Crafting an Enigma: Morten Tyldum takes Andrew Hodges’ biography Alan Turing: The Enigma and condenses it into a carefully plotted and suspenseful historical thriller. Along with screenwriter Graham Moore, Tyldum structures the movie like a puzzle, one determined to solve the secret of not simply who Turing was, but what he was, as well—man, machine, monster, or criminal? By way of a nonlinear narrative, the film unravels Turing’s secrets, work, and relationships in an attempt to determine what made Turing one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. Occasionally the film oversimplifies events for the sake of convenience, but the structure does allow quite a range of material to be accurately explored. The film starts in 1951 with Turing under suspicion of criminal activities, before traveling back to 1939 where Turing attempts to crack the Germans’ Enigma machine. Flashbacks circa 1925 center on Turing’s school days and first romantic feelings. While Tyldum’s well-crafted, and tension inducing direction offers little in the way of memorable imagery, the three timelines of the film, and the use of distinct color palates to separate them, offer enough experimentation to separate the film from traditional biopics.
Not So Secret Weapons: Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Turing is exceptional. It’s a humorous, awkward, brilliant, and deeply emotional portrayal that adds necessary complication to the film’s question of Turing. While The Imitation Game is supported by strong turns from Kiera Knightly, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, and Mark Strong, Cumberbatch owns the screen. His portrayal of Turing is more of an isolated loner than Hodges’ biography alleges, but it’s a sensitive take on a very complicated individual whose character nuances and interests are far too many to fit into a two-hour film. One of the script’s faults is that it doesn’t find a balance between Turing’s work at Bletchley Park and his personal life outside of that, which gives Cumberbatch little opportunity to explore what Turing’s homosexuality meant to him (the biography suggests he wasn’t particularly secretive about it for the time). While his homosexuality is integral in terms of later plot developments, it could have been more effectively handled given the coda at the end of the film.
Decoded Message: Where most WWII films focus on the American soldiers and decisions made on the front lines, it’s refreshing to see a different take on the war centered on the no less enaging and important stories of the men and women behind the scenes whose efforts completely changed the way the Allies fought and won the war. The Imitation Game, like most biopics is unable to fully explore the totality of the subject’s life, but successfully provides a strong sense of who and what Turing was without feeling manipulative or trite. While the film doesn’t provide easy answers to the puzzle of Alan Turing, it leaves no doubt he was a hero who forever changed humanity’s relationship with machines.