VOD film review: The Imitation Game
James R | On 12, Mar 2015
Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant in The Imitation Game, an aptly formulaic story about mathematical genius Alan Turing.
The story of how Turing helped to solve the Enigma code during World War II is certainly worth telling – and the movie makes sure it tells it as impressively as possible. On the one hand, that means a satisfying drama with all the things you’d expect from an Oscar nominee. On the other, that means historical inaccuracies designed to hike up the tension.
Code-breaking, let’s face it, is not a very cinematic activity. Cycling through permutations of numbers until the correct sequence is reached doesn’t scream visual excitement. Graham Moore’s script, therefore, does its best to dress it up. We begin with Alan’s arrest in 1952 for gross indecency, which prompts the unravelling of his Bletchley Park exploits. That, in turn, prompts revelations about his schooldays in the 1920s.
It’s an elegant enough structure, but it leans heavily on convention to drive its momentum. Of course, there’s a rival cryptographer he doesn’t get along with. Of course, there’s a romantic interest. Of course, there’s a spy lurking in the shadows. Except, of course, in real life, there mostly wasn’t.
If you can accept the calculated contrivances, though, the narrative moves with the swift familiarity of a well-oiled gizmo. Under Morten Tyldum’s understated direction, the production cycles through combinations of cliches until it finds a sequence that clicks.
It helps that the cast bring their cogs to life with such aplomb; Matthew Goode’s womanising Hugh is enjoyably smug, Charles Dance’s Commander bristles with visible disdain, while Keira Knightley turns what could have been a thankless role as wife-to-be Joan into a real character of smarts and sympathy.
It is Alan, though, who dazzles. Schoolboy Alex Lawther is quietly awkward, as young Turing becomes attached to his friend, Christopher. That same abruptness is echoed by Cumberbatch, who is restrained yet surprisingly emotional as the enigmatic mathematician. His performance elevates the run-of-the-mill screenplay into a cracking exploration of whether a calculating outsider can imitate being human. There are ghosts in his machine, suggests this story, and, as formulaic as they may be, they are genuinely haunting.