9 October 2014 | Sergeant_Tibbs
Hello Best Picture frontrunner. Consider me satisfied.
There is something appropriately mechanical about The Imitation Game. It has a theatrical rhythm and attention to detail that ticks like a clock. That's not to say that it's necessarily overly dry and hard to connect to, this biopic of the extraordinary and tragic mathematician and inventor of the digital computer, Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is emotionally engaging and utterly endearing. With a slick exquisite script and an eclectic ensemble strong enough to deliver, it's an accessible film that although may feel familiar, is thoroughly refreshing, bringing laughter, tears and thrills. It will undeniably be a huge contender at the big awards this season, perhaps going all the way.
Director Morten Tyldum's film follows Turing's journey to break the Enigma Code, the form in which the Germans communicated during WWII to conduct surprise attacks. He attempts it by building the first computer, a passion project of his that was frequently criticized for devoting so much Government time and money. He deals with a social ineptitude while also accepting his own homosexuality, which lead to unforgivable persecution and depression that caused Turing to take his own life. The film focuses on his life achievements rather than his demise, though it does explore that part of his life, if not illustrate it as much as it could have done.
It's easy to root for Turing, even if his arrogance and standoffishness repel the other characters. Benedict Cumberbatch is a real crowd pleaser here. I've only seen him in short supporting roles such as last year's August: Osage County and 12 Years A Slave and I'm certainly quite impressed, if not quite as astounded. There's a very rehearsed quality about his performance, similar to Anne Hathaway's Oscar winning turn in Les Miserables. Every stutter and nuance feels perfectly placed rather than organic. But this isn't necessarily a turn off, it fits the tone of the film. He could go all the way to the Oscar but it depends on buzz and the competition.
The highlight of the film is the writing by Graham Moore, adapted from Andrew Hodges novel 'Alan Turing: The Enigma.' It's not groundbreaking, but it has the right ingredients and the perfect recipe. Even if somehow it's the only film's nomination, it's still a frontrunner for the win in Adapted Screenplay. This will be a film known for 'ticking boxes,' but it does it in a way that all films should. It's economical without ever feeling like it's rushing or only scratching the surface. It constantly pummels the characters with adversity, presenting heart-wrenching moral dilemmas, particularly for Keira Knightley's Joan Clarke. It turns something complicated and bleak quite lighthearted, especially with the casual approach to war outside of moments of justified despair.
Knightley will certainly get awards attention for her fine supporting role as Turing's counterpart. Her role may not be as meaty, lacking the highs and lows Cumberbatch has, but she makes the most of her relative sparing use, becoming the heart of the film. Thanks to her, their relationship is completely believable, given that Turing is a man who struggles with connecting to people, and the way she manages the choices her character is set upon is dealt with deft conviction. Charles Dance, Mark Strong and especially Matthew Goode are commanding side presences who bolster the film's charm. The titular 'imitation game' is essentially the Replicant test from Blade Runner, something Turing has practiced on himself. However, all the characters are human here, if with a confidence you only find in the movies.
Instead of a linear structure, the film chooses flashbacks to flesh out the full story of Turing. It does seem a little extraneous to go back to school with him, but fortunately the focus of their objectives and the performances of the young actors make them worthwhile, as well as showing the origin of something that changed the world as we know it. The scale is further expanded with newsreel footage and scenes of the world at war, even if the special effects are relatively primitive compared to what can be achieved these days though that doesn't hold the film back as such. It's very easy to get suckered into films that convince you that you're watching one man change the world and The Imitation Game achieves that effortlessly.
Although it's dense in character and plot, The Imitation Game flashes more on the surface than it has to offer beneath. Kinetic energy in the editing brings an instant gratification, especially in the edge of your seat sequences. There are liberties with the tone for such a somber event and protagonist that most likely doesn't reflect the honest emotions involved, but obviously it's easier to digest for audience. I was unsure at first, but then it had me under its spell. This also may be Alexandre Desplat's best bet at finally winning an Oscar. It adds to that whimsical cinematic tone, almost reminiscent on his work on Harry Potter sans the magic. It will certainly be warmly embraced in the mainstream. The film is poignant, but not powerful. Entertaining, but not enlightening.
I'm content calling this the Best Picture frontrunner until further notice. The film feels like a combination of Argo, with the secrets and the camaraderie of the unit, and The King's Speech, with its Britishness and charming partnerships. It depends whether the Academy fall for the ambition of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar or the Chariots of Fire + The Bridge on the River Kwai formula of Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. Either way, The Imitation Game will belong amongst the most deserving winners, but the test of time remains to be seen. It's not like it'll be alone in that group. Nevertheless, with Queen Elizabeth II's pardon for Turing last year, there's never been a better time to educate the masses on his legacy that we use everyday.
edit: guess it isn't. Oh well. Boyhood and Birdman are better anyway.