Wednesday 22 April 2015

The Imitation Game

Warning – this review may contain spoilers. As the film is based on a true story, it’s debatable whether or not one can spoil it, but you are warned regardless.

Directed by Morten Tyldum and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes The Imitation Game, which tells the true story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his team of code-breaking mathematicians, and their struggle to crack the Enigma code. For those of you who don’t know/weren’t paying attention in history lessons, the Enigma code was created by a machine, for enciphering and deciphering secret messages. It was used by the Nazis to communicate about impending attacks and was a great threat to us. But World War II was second to the battle Alan was fighting inside.  

Having researched Alan’s life after watching the film, I was surprised to learn how much of the film was inaccurate – a common criticism of the film. But, as the old saying goes, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The story is very well told, with a superb narrative structure. The film takes place in 3 periods of time – Alan’s childhood, Alan’s time during the war, and Alan’s time after the war. Here comes the potential spoiler. Alan was gay. We watch him discover his sexuality in his childhood, we watch him try and keep it a secret during the war, and we watch in disbelief as he is made a broken man after the war for his so-called ‘crime’ (homosexuality was illegal then). This is where the sad side of the story truly comes into play. Alan Turing, a man instrumental in winning the war, is punished and destroyed both physically and emotionally, for his SEXUALITY. Whilst this “look how nasty we were to homosexuals” message seems a little forced towards the end, it is important for us not to forget our history, and what we did. The Human Rights Campaign (the largest LGBT advocacy group in the world) have since honoured the film for bringing Turing's legacy to a wide audience.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of Cumberbatch. I’m sorry. I don’t watch Sherlock. I know in today’s world that makes me a terrible person. But…he was extremely good in this. Very deserving of his awards nominations. Granted, this was a very strong year for acting and he didn’t really stand a chance against Eddie Redmayne (predictably the winner for The Theory of Everything) or Michael Keaton (should’ve been the winner for Birdman), but regardless of awards his performance certainly stands out as the best thing about this film. It’s one of those rare performances where you forget you’re watching an actor, but rather feel like you’re truly watching the subject. The supporting cast are a who’s who of British cinema, but the majority of them feel like they’re just playing the same characters they always play. Charles Dance plays a tough, no-nonsense, stern commander not too dissimilar from his Game of Thrones character Tywin Lannister. Mark Strong turns up and just says his lines. He doesn’t even need to act anymore. Oh, I just remembered. Keira Knightley is in it. She’s making more of an effort than she usually does, but she still isn’t doing anything memorable. She’s just playing Keira Knightley! Throw in Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear and a few others and you’ve got a delightfully British cast for a delightfully British film. But this is part of its downfall. It felt a little bit like our own version of ‘American Sniper’ – you know, in a “Look how good we are at war!” kind of way. Huzzah! Britain!

With another stunningly beautiful score from the incredible Alexandre Desplat which is worth viewing the film for alone, this is cinema of immense quality. The production design is wonderful. The sets, the costumes and that wonderful score make for a lovely little trip back to the 1940s. It just feels polished and exceptionally well made.  But once the credits have rolled and you’ve digested the film, how memorable is it? Whilst I very much enjoyed the 2 hours watching it, I was never on the edge of my seat. It wasn’t as thrilling or tense as I feel it wanted to be. It was very watchable though and, as discussed, the quality alone made for a very pleasant viewing experience. I enjoyed it. But within an hour, I’d moved on. Take other awards fodder films this year, like the simply perfect Whiplash or Birdman. These are films I couldn’t wait to see again and still think about today. The Imitation Game just feels a little…forgettable.

In conclusion, The Imitation Game is an exceptionally well made film with a powerful and important message, featuring a superb performance from Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s definitely worth a look. But does it have a long life ahead of it, or will it become BBC Sunday afternoon fodder with a cup of tea and some biscuits? One feels like the latter is more likely. But is that a problem? Sunday afternoons need films too.

The Imitation Game cracks the code and earns a 4/5.


Sam Love

The Imitation Game at CeX

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