The Imitation Game” is a biopic of Alan Turing that excels within the confines of its conventional mold. Ripe with the drama of World War II, this film is never boring and Turing’s personal struggles provoked a stronger emotional response than I expected. However, the social critiques that the film attempts to make regarding feminism and homophobia are contradicted by the film’s content. Despite this, the exceptional cast still makes for an enthralling movie.
Tasked with deciphering German communications encrypted by the Enigma machine, mathemetician Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) manufactures his “universal machine” (the first computer) to solve them. Socially inept, arrogant and aloof, Turing and his coworkers fail to work together until Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) steps in as a kind of diplomatic interpreter who facilitates their collaboration and eventual success.
The acting in “The Imitation Game” is easily the movie’s strongest suit. I was worried that Turing would be essentially a reproduction of Cumberbatch’s character in the TV show “Sherlock,” but he imbues Turing with a vulnerability and warmth that distinguishes them from each other. Knightley is charming as Joan, and her acting complemented Cumberbatch’s well. Charles Dance nails his role as the intimidating antagonist in a performance rather reminiscent of his role as Tywin Lannister in the “Game of Thrones” series. Alex Lawther left quite the impression as a young Turing as well.
The predictability inherent in a historical drama is amplified by the film’s formulaic plot, but despite this, “The Imitation Game” is still engaging. Aside from the acting, this is largely due to the initially disorienting nonlinear narrative whose separate timelines compound into an emotional crescendo. Despite the third repetition of the movie’s mantra, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things that no one can imagine,” the emotional climax of the film is moving.
The dialogue keeps the story moving but is only remarkable in the sporadic usage of dated language. One exchange in particular sticks with me as, in my opinion, the most profound question in the movie. When asked about artificial intelligence, Alan Turing says that machines will never think like humans, but “just because something thinks differently than you, does it means it’s not thinking?”
As director Morten Tyldum’s English language debut, “The Imitation Game” is impressive. It captivates without melodrama and remains evocative throughout. What’s more, the film’s score, set, costume design and acting are all on point. However, for a film that touts the values of feminism and openness to homosexuality, it does not pass the Bechdel test and only focuses on Turing’s passions as a child, going out of its way to avoid developing it any further. Between this hypocrisy and the movie’s formulaic plot, the movie falls short of being exceptional. I recommend “The Imitation Game” to fellow fans of “Sherlock,” World War II buffs, historical fiction fans and anyone looking for a good tearjerker.