Nov 30, 2014

The Imitation Game

Sure, it is a conventional biopic about a most unconventional man: Alan Turing, the mathematical genius who broke the code for the German Enigma machine which helped the allies win World War II, and he basically created the world's first computer, only to be humiliated and driven to suicide by the British government for being a homosexual. The Queen only gave him a posthumous pardon last year. A man who should have been hailed as a national hero but instead had to choose between incarceration or chemical castration because of his sexuality. Tragic.
It is a fascinating story, given a toothless. crowd pleasing treatment by director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore (based on a biography by Andrew Hodges), under the recognizable imprimatur of The Weinstein Company. And yes, some of the one liners are painfully obvious, especially when repeated three times, but it is to the credit of the splendid cast, led by the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, that they do their best, which is very good, to make them sound better than they are.
As heartwarming Weinstein Company biopics go, this one, with all its flaws, somehow works. It helps that the cast is uniformly excellent. It helps that my beloved Mark Strong plays the role of an MI-6 agent. He does so much with a shrug or a risen eyebrow; he nails his every line with elegant precision and a sense of humor. He is divine. So is Matthew Goode, as Turing's hostile colleague, so is Keira Knightley, as the sole woman to be hired to try to break the code, and of course so is Cumberbatch, who makes Turing into a rather adorable, socially awkward curmudgeon. Of course, I would have preferred a much darker, cerebral movie. After all, all the British pictures of the Weinstein Company (The King's Speech, My Week With Marilyn, etc) seem to be made by cookie cutter, but let's face it, they are a bit of a guilty pleasure. If you, like me, are an unrepentant anglophile and fan of British thespians who loves nothing better than to hear Mark Strong or Colin Firth or Benny Cumberbatch, or Judi Dench serenade you with their most mellifluous elocution, well then, it is heaven.
Alexandre Desplat, who is perilously close to falling into a vat of schmaltz and never coming back, provides the music, which at times is very effective (although I miss his formerly edgier work, as in Birth or Syriana). The production design makes London at war look like a beautiful, color coordinated diorama, there's plenty of tweed to go around, and the story has Turing solve Enigma by overhearing a girl gossiping at a bar. I have no idea if this was true or not, but it is hokey and extremely entertaining at the same time. Alan Turing deserves a smarter movie, but this one is very enjoyable, as long as you forgive the clichés.

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