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BWW Reviews: THE IMITATION GAME Not As Complex As Its Genius Subject But Features Intricate, Compelling Performances

Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard,
Matthew Goode, Benedict Cumberbatch,
and Allen Leech star in THE IMITATION GAME.
Photo: Jack English, courtesy of Black Bear Pictures.

THE IMITATION GAME, a winding look into the life and times of mistreated genius Alan Turning, is an imperfect but compelling film.

Benedict Cumberbatch is genius Alan Turing. Turing's character has a wonderful arc. He matriculates as an insufferable smartass, progresses to sufferable smartass and finally graduates as one of the most intelligent and influential intellects for generations to come. Cumberbatch portrays each stage wonderfully. Equally impressive is Cumberbatch's ability to differentiate Turing from the hyper-intellectual, sometimes arrogant characters he often plays. Alan Turing could've easily been Sherlock Holmes or Stephen Hawking, but he wasn't. Even better, you'll find Cumberbatch's performance in the small, almost imperceptible, moments. And, luckily, if you're not paying attention, those small moments culminate into an apex of emotion and the gravity of the character.

I would have loved further exploration of Joan Clarke, if for nothing but more lines like this: "I'm a woman in a man's job, and I don't have the luxury of being an ass." Admittedly, this is Turing's swan song, not Clarke's. But the filmmakers somehow find a way to delve into Turing's relationships with his other colleagues while Keira Knightley's Clarke is relegated to the role of love interest. This is a disservice to Clarke and Knightley's skills. Criticism aside, any moment Knightley is on screen is a pleasurable one.

THE GOOD WIFE's Matthew Goode transitions well from the small screen to the big screen. He transitions just as well from his caring, kind character on THE GOOD WIFE to the somewhat abrasive alpha male Hugh Alexander. Moreover, each sideways glance between Goode and Cumberbatch is worth more than 1000 words. Goode and Cumberbatch have infinitely more chemistry than Cumberbatch and Knightley.

Other performances are equally as capable. Like many police chiefs, Charles Dance as Commander Denniston is an officer who doesn't believe in his young ward's radical methods. Rory Kinnear is the simple, unassuming but determined Detective Robert Nock. And Allen Leech is a capable complement to the team. Mark Strong as Stewart Menzies is a slimy yet seductive government higher-up.

This story is propelled by strong performances, but you can't talk about a film without mentioning the filmmaker.

The pacing at the beginning of the film is slow, which makes it difficult to invest in. On the other hand, once it hits its stride, the movie is gripping and beautiful. Costume design by Sammy Sheldon Differ is gorgeous. It, along with production design by Maria Djurkovic and set decoration by Tatiana McDonald, create enough beautiful period detailing to keep the audience interested even when the pacing is slow.

The exploration of Alan Turing's friendship with childhood friend Christopher humanizes the character. However, beginning the story with Turing's arrest and framing that narrative around a minor, uninteresting police investigation is a mistake. It's convoluted. It adds nothing to the story. In fact, it's only there to fool the audience into thinking that the narrative is as complex as its leading protagonist. It isn't.

Additionally, I was not a fan of the use of real footage with fictional footage. The juxtaposition of the slick, modern fictional footage with the historical footage -- artistic decision or not -- clashed. Each time, the cutting threw me out of the film. And the use of intercutting between the war on the field, and the race to break Enigma is clearly intended to equate or compare those fighting on the frontlines to those fighting in Bletchley. That's a suckers' equivalency.

Finally, the screen title ending is overbearing and tacked on, likely in response to early criticisms that the film did not explore Turing's closeted homosexuality thoroughly enough. In response to that, first I'll say that this is a film about Turing's work. A understandable consequence is that his sexual orientation will be peripheral. Secondly, the tragic end to Turing's life needs no augmentation. One explanatory note informing the audience of Turing's end would suffice.

Surely there is enough empathy in our audience and in humanity that we can all understand the horror of reducing the mathematical genius to suicide. And imperfections aside, this film does much to convey just that.

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From This Author Katricia Lang