Of all the war movies released in 2014, I’ve seen American Sniper, Unbroken, The Monuments Men, 300: Rise of an Empire, and Fury. Of those, I pick Fury as the best of the bunch (although I need to see the Oscar-nominated documentary Last Days in Vietnam), even though American Sniper was undeservedly awarded a Best Picture nomination by the Academy. I’m still upset about the fact that in a category that allows ten contenders, the Academy decided to only select eight, one being Clint Eastwood’s latest war drama. It was undeserving, but I am grateful that the same group of pretentious snobs decided to nominate The Imitation Game, which is, in my opinion, the best war movie of the year.
The film tells the story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician and cryptanalyst who is best known for leading Hut 8, a secretly recruited group of intelligent operatives who were selected to complete a very special and important task: crack the code of the Enigma, a coded tool of communication for the Nazis. After the film’s closing credits began to role, I was astonished at the fact that I had not previously known about Turing; his life, impact, or legacy. He was, technically, one of the early founders of intelligent computer systems.
But something I admired greatly about The Imitation Game is that it didn’t stop with the historical importance of the story. It didn’t seem all to focused on telling the tale of how a group of British nerds broke the German system, thus rendering them vulnerable for their country’s forces. No, this film, written by first timer Graham Moore, focuses also on Turing himself: his flaws, imperfections, and sexuality. This writing choice really heightens the film, elevating it from the clichéd depths of a typical biopic and bringing it down to a personal level, allowing us to look at Turing not only as a historical figure, but also as a relatable person.
As Alan Turing, Benedict Cumberbatch is spectacular, and no, I don’t say that because I naturally like him as an actor (but yes, it’s a factor). I love him as Sherlock Holmes, he was great in 12 Years a Slave, he was intimidating as Kahn in J.J.’s second Star Trek movie (I still defend it), and his motion capture work was awe-inspiring in the Hobbit films. But his work in The Imitation Game is better than anything he has done before, completely devoting himself to his character and becoming one with it. A few moments reminded me of Russell Crowe’s performance in A Beautiful Mind. This is indeed a compliment.
When Alan Turning becomes in charge of the operation by the order of Winston Churchill, he holds a sort of puzzle quiz of sorts to see who is best suited to help him and his small team. Two are selected, and one of them is Joan Clark, played by Keira Knightley. She gives standout work as Joan, the second smartest (or maybe the smartest) of the bunch. Sometimes her sophistication impresses even Alan, and the movie has a great time playing with that factor of just who is better and if it even matters. Knightley and Cumberbatch are both terrific, but they’re even better when they are on screen together, hinting at a possible romantic relationship even though we, the audience, know that Turing is homosexual.
Also in the vein of bringing the film down to a personal level is its handling of Turing’s homosexuality. During the WWII era, homosexuality wasn’t just looked down upon… it was actually illegal. Even here in the United States, it’s illegal in some states, and even though most people are now supportive of equal sexual rights, it’s a bit crazy to think that a little over seventy years ago (and still in some places today), this kind of “behavior” could be the cause of your execution and/or imprisonment. This film, while initially receiving some criticism of the possibility of understating Turing’s homosexuality, does a fine job with it, hinting at Turing’s possible sexual preferences by way of flashbacks that start off a bit clichéd, but steadily evolve into an emotionally persistent characterization technique.
This is the first screenplay by Graham Moore, and while I will admit that there were a few (only a few) dull moments and various inconsistencies, I also admit that when I learned that it was written by a first time writer, I was shocked. For someone with no major writing experience (at least none that I know of), this is a pretty well written film, especially when considering the alluring story it’s based on. It’s impressive, really. Also, director Morten Tyldum, while not bringing anything creative or necessarily stylish to the table, doesn’t come close to doing a bad job, and I feel like I should credit him for getting good performances out of his actors.
The Academy only selected eight films for the Best Picture category for the 2014 Oscars. Does The Imitation Game deserve to be among them? Well, let me put it this way. It wouldn’t make my top eight films of the year. I can think of a handful of films that are better. But I will say this. Benedict Cumberbatch deserves the Best Actor nomination he received. Graham Moore deserves the Best Adapted Screenplay nomination he received. Alexandre Desplat deserves the Best Original Score nomination he received (and that other one, too). And The Imitation Game itself deserves that Best Picture nomination a lot more than American Sniper.
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material, and historical smoking
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Charles Dance
Written by Graham Moore
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Photo credits: Indiewire.com, IMDB.com, BurnsFilmCenter.org