****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!! THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!****
The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum with screenplay by Graham Moore (based on Andrew Hodges book "Alan Turing: The Enigma"), is the story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician who, during world war two, broke the Nazi's secret enigma code which was a major key in the allies winning the war. Adding to the drama of the story is the fact that Turing is a closeted homosexual at a time when homosexuals were persecuted and prosecuted for their sexual orientation.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays the socially inept yet mathematically brilliant Turing. His work here, as always, is consistently solid. Cumberbatch is a very skilled actor, and his portrayal of Turing is finely crafted. Cumberbatch has the very unique ability as an actor, and it is put to good use here, to keep the audience at arm's length yet tantalize them with just enough intimate glances into his character's soul to keep viewers intrigued. His Turing is off-putting yet magnetic, which keeps us rooting for him even when he isn't all that likable.
Keira Knightley as Turing's co-worker and fiancé, Joan Clarke, is very good in a, not surprisingly, under written role. Clarke's relationship with Turing could have been a goldmine of dramatic intrigue, yet it is never really fleshed out in any meaningful way, which is a disappointment. Knightley has the ability to light up any screen on which she appears, and this film could have used much more of her rather than less.
Mark Strong is one of my favorite actors, and he does his usual superb work as Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies. I also thought Charles Dance as Commander Alistair Denniston was very good. The Brits can really churn out quality actors, and both Dance and Strong are without question living proof of that. (Speaking of Britishness, this film is so thoroughly and distinctly 'British' that my teeth went crooked watching it!!) As for the other supporting actors, though, they were not as strong, and better performances from them would have lifted the film a bit.
The most conspicuous thing about this film is that it is painfully 'safe', and it's glaring timidity. It is timid and safe in story, dramatically and in it's direction. The film makes the easy commercial choice in narrative, but dramatically, they bury the lede. We know the allies win the war, what we don't know is what happened to Alan Turing and why. In a postscript, the film tells us Alan Turing committed suicide a year after court ordered chemical castration due to a conviction for a homosexual encounter. It is blatantly obvious to me that the film should have started where it ended. That last year of Turing's life is infinitely more important in terms of drama than all the years he spent cracking the Nazi code. I think the 2009 film A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as a gay man contemplating suicide in 1962, is a great example of what The Imitation Game could have been. The intimacy of that portrait in A Single Man, was astounding, as was Firth's performance. I felt that excruciating intimacy was what was missing from The Imitation Game. One can only imagine how agonizing the final year, never mind the final day, of a man as tormented and tortured as Alan Turing could have been. The choice to simply make his suicide a few sentences written on the screen after the movie is over is incomprehensible dramatically, and feels terribly cold-hearted and obtuse.
I think a wiser choice for a film about Alan Turing would be to start the story with Turing already deep into the Enigma code breaking process, and then we see him succeed and 'win the war'. But then we transition to how his country repaid him for his genius by persecuting him for his sexuality, and then harassed and finally crucified him. Add into this mix his complex and conflicted relationship with Knightley's Clarke, and you have the recipe for a really compelling film with forceful performances from both Cumberbatch and Knightley, who are unquestionably up to task.
Returning once again to the great Colin Firth, the film that The Imitation Game has been most compared to is the one Firth won a Best Actor Oscar for, The King's Speech from 2010, which also won the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscar . I understand the comparisons, both are set around the same time period, both are exceedingly mainstream, and both are strikingly British. The King's Speech is a fine film, not great, but well made and I very much enjoyed it, particularly the acting. The Imitation Game is nowhere near the film The King's Speech is, and neither are the performances, of that there can be no doubt. The comparisons to The King's Speech do The Imitation Game no favors.
In conclusion, The Imitation Game is an achingly safe and straight forward Hollywood film, even though it is unquestionably British. The heroic, yet tragic story of Alan Turing is one that deserved considerably more bravery from the people making it. Solid performances aside, the film fails to live up to the life of the man it is made about, and that is a shame.
FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , FOXCATCHER , WILD , AMERICAN SNIPER , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .