CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Waddington, Ilan Goodman, Jack Tarlton, Alex Lawther
DIRECTOR: Morten Tyldum
WRITER: Andrew Hodges, Graham Moore
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Oscar Faura
If this is the ’90s, THE IMITATION GAME is an instant Oscar front-runner, sure to collect trophies during the big night. The Turing picture is indeed a couple of decades too late. Compared to modern biopics, it is staid, stale, and so-so. Nothing lingers after the credits rolled. The performances are topnotch, but that is all that can be said about it. Films based on real-life people must be thought-provoking. Historical figures are not mere lessons for rote memorization, rather subjects for critical probe. In this regard, THE IMITATION GAME looks like a rehashed lesson plan.
THE IMITATION GAME refers to both the code-breaking operation and the double life of Professor Turing. Shifting from the personal to the professional, it tries to present the life of a genius, a hero, and a complicated man. Benedict Cumberbatch, the current go-to actor for genius characters, is Professor Turing. Cold, distant, and serpentine-like, he managed to incorporate innocence and humor to his character. His Turing is no upgraded Sherlock, but a different creation altogether. The rest of the cast turned in a fine performance. Then again, compared to the lead star, the other actors have not much material to sink their teeth on. To hammer the point, the material and the director are the major problems.
There is quite a number of interesting ideas and important issues in the life of Professor Turing. He, after all, led a complicated life. Consider the path the film took, it forks into these directions, a thriller and a straight-up biopic. The film succeeds more as a thriller, since the stakes are higher — freedom. It is also interesting to find out if the other code-breakers, in perpetual conflict with Turing, will get their acts together before it’s too late. On the other hand, the back-and-forth transition illustrating Professor Turing as a child and as an adult, is rather unsuccessful. For some reason, the more he gets older, the less interested the film is in discussing his gender preference. If it hopes to generate public outrage for an antiquated legislation against the LGBT, it should at least presented the struggles of leading a double life at that time. Further, it could have at least depicted the suicide. In the case of Professor Turing, ending his life is both a means to freedom and a form of protest.
The director is responsible for creating more out of a material; peeling back its skin and presenting it as coherent as possible. One of the more poignant and best scenes, is the interception of a coded message about an Allied ship at the cross-hairs of a Nazi torpedo ambush. However, as Professor Turing points out, if the Allies alert the ship to change course, the Germans will realize Enigma has been broken, their gains rendered useless. To complicate matters, one of the code-breakers has a brother on-board the ship. In essence, this illustrates the God-like powers of the code-breakers. These people, in the confines of secured rooms, make life and death choices for soldiers in the field. In the hands of a capable filmmaker, Spielberg for instance, this scene has the potential to scale emotional heights. Instead, it is nothing more than a squandered occasion.
Judge the film based on artistic merits, it is still not a good one. Factor in all the historical inaccuracies, it becomes even more problematic. Despite a terrific cast, a rich source material, and an interesting subject matter, THE IMITATION GAME never gets past standard fare biopic.