Sometimes there are films that I go in to watch with great expectations, and other times I am worried that I will be disappointed. Much of this comes from the so-called “buzz” from critics, friends, etc. As I went in to see The Imitation Game I was expecting to experience some kind of thrilling espionage tale set in World War II with highly praised acting by Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. Sadly, all I got was the acting, but you can question whether or not that was better than nothing.
As directed by Morten Tyldum and with a screenplay by Graham Moore, based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Alan Hodges, the film is decidedly British in tone and theme. What I mean here is no disrespect; rather, there is a slow pacing, a buildup of the action (as it were), and the development of rich characterizations, particularly with Cumberbatch as genius Turing. Unfortunately, I was thinking along the lines of a James Bond type escapade and I got something more resembling a graduate course lecture.
To spice things up as much as possible, a lovely Keira Knightly is brought in as Joan Clarke, who along with a group headed by Turing is trying to break the Nazi code on a machine called Enigma. If the gang can break the code they will be able to let the military know when major attacks are being launched. The premise is exciting enough, but the way it is handled here has all the excitement of watching snails run a marathon.
I must give points for one scene where a fellow code breaker punches a pompous Alan (this is about as much action as we get), or when Joan gives a somewhat stilted confession of affection for Turing even though he has already revealed to her that he is gay. She argues that they will have more together than traditional couples who need sex upon which to base a relationship, but Alan is having none of it.
Turing builds a machine that is basically a precursor to the modern computer, and with it they are able to break the Nazi code. Ultimately, the best scene comes after the Enigma code is broken; the gang discovers a convoy is going to be attacked, but Alan argues that if they reveal themselves now that they won’t be able to get to the bigger news and battles down the road. Obviously, members of the convoy prove expendable and it is a tight dramatic scene with solid acting.
In fact, this film probably would be a great one to use in an film school course. The acting is so articulate and impressive that it keeps you wanting it all to be part of something bigger and better. Instead, we have a lot of sound and fury signifying a story that had much potential but that is a disappointment as the impressive parts do not add up to a satisfying whole.
Still, Cumberbatch is a simmering mess of genius meeting the stark reality of time and place. No matter how brilliant Turing is the facts are that this is still 1940s Britain, with all its ignorance and especially intolerance for homosexuals. Despite Turing’s vital role during the war, his treatment later on is despicable and leads to unnecessary tragedy.
In the end the film should have used the title of book on which it is based; it is reminiscent of the way Winston Churchill once described Russia – “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” That would best sum up not only Alan Turing but this film about his solitary but brilliant life.
Photo credits: imdb.com, fandango.com, variety.com[amazon template=iframe image&asin=069116472X]