The Imitation Game – Review

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Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong
Based on the Book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by: Andrew Hodges
Adapted for the screen by: Graham Moore
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
IMDb Score: 8.1 (#210 in IMDb’s Top 250 movies of all time)
Metacritic Score: 73
Winner of 1 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Graham Moore); Nominated for 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director (Morten Tyldum), Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley)
Named One of the Ten Best Movies of the Year by the American Film Institute

Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking

 I’ll confess it now:  I love Benedict Cumberbatch. Since I first saw him in the British TV Miniseries Sherlock, I’ve been dying for him to get meatier roles in movies and in TV. The results have been some decent roles in movies like War HorseTinker Tailor Soldier SpyThe Hobbit series and 12 Years a Slave. He played Khan and saved Star Trek Into Darkness, then was one of many train wrecks in the abhorrent August: Osage County. His first starring role, The Fifth Estate…well, he was good at least.

To finally sit down and watch the film that has given him some accolades got me excited. What I watched was something of a realization about the actor.

This movie chronicles the time when Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) creates The Turing Machine in order to break Enigma, the computer that decrypted many Nazi messages in order to win World War II, and his subsequent arrest for homosexual acts.

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The movie is a standard bio-pic of Turing and his life, made much more exciting than I ever thought math would be by an excellent script by Graham Moore. Everything from character based interactions to the “action,” as it would be called, is done with an excitement and dread that the first time screenwriter nailed with a precision that few screenwriters are able to create nowadays.

The one thing that to this point is a debatable point is the performance of Cumberbatch as Turing himself. Namely, is it a good performance or merely a performance by a character he’s nonetheless perfected? Cumberbatch has literally shot to stardom by playing anti-social brilliant misfits with mean streaks that some would mistake as Aspergers suffers but is really just a means of being cocky and self-assured.

Of course, if you aren’t familiar with Cumberbatch (or the only thing you saw him in was that horrible August: Osage County) then you are in for a treat: this movie is cinematic personified of the character that makes him so lovable. In fact, this is by far and away his best performance from the Sherlock series to now.

The question really is for people, like me, who are fans of Cumberbatch. Truth be told, it was distracting to see Cumberbatch play the exact same character he is known for: instead of being a crazy, but brilliant detective, he’s a homosexual mathematician.

Then again, if there was anyone born to play this part, it was Cumberbatch, since he always has the right amount of “endearing” and “utter asshole” that still comes off feeling like a genuine, likable character, somehow. Instead of the performance being a fun, charismatic performance; it’s a painful, if not devastating performance with legit pathos that his TV counterpart has yet to really dive into (and probably never will).

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This is where the script and direction really shine, however. It would be very easy to just rest this movie on Cumberbatch and deliver it home, but the script is so well executed, and by turn the direction is so on point, that it gels so well with Cumberbatch’s performance because they seem to be so fine-tuned with one another.

It’s hard to really grasp if the writer and director massaged the movie into Cumberbatch or if the actor just had the right type of direction and wordplay to work with, but it’s absolutely flawless how it came out. Scenes that would tend to be melodramatic, such as the scene where they crack the code (spoiler for a 60 year old event), or would be used to pull obvious political and social feelings (his arrest for being gay and his subsequent punishment) are done with a sense of calculation and precise levity that it doesn’t come off feeling disingenuous or emotionally manipulative.

This movie could have easily veered into the J. Edgar territory of “this celebrated guy you know of? Look how screwed up he is!” but stayed with a steady eye on a certain feeling and personification of the events, not just the character. It’s an enormous plus in this movie that the director and writer decided to give both the life of the man and his achievement equal weight, which very few movies tend to pull off well to be convincing.

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So, there’s really one pressing question: Should Cumberbatch be praised or be saddled with playing a character that he’s played so often before, regardless of the fact that the writing and direction are superb? Should he be considered a cog in a fantastic machine that has the director Morten Tyldum (in his first English movie) and the writer Graham Moore (in his first movie screenplay) in simpatico with one another to make this movie as exciting and grounded as it is?

It’s a question I feel like I can’t properly answer: When watching the movie, it did feel at times I was watching him play Sherlock Holmes: On the other hand, I love him as Sherlock Holmes and the script meshes incredibly well with his performance.

Upon writing this review, in retrospect, the performance became less of a problem and more of an understanding of what was needed of Cumberbatch and his willingness to tweak that persona for a screenplay and director that rightfully deserved it. When watching the movie, however, it was a distraction.

Of course, if you haven’t even watched Sherlock, this entire review should just come down to one stated fact: See this movie now. If you are more than well versed in that series, then keep that in mind when watching this film but there is much more to enjoy.

4/5 – Cumberbatch/Tyldum/Moore adapt a story that could have been plodding into a tense, grounded bio-pic drama.

The Wiz Says #22

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