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The Imitation Game

by on March 31, 2015
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Benedict Cumberbatch stars in "The Imitation Game" (2014).

A cerebral wartime thriller, a moving and tragic biopic, and an elegy on LGBT rights, “The Imitation Game” is in some ways as enigmatic as the man upon whom it is based. As well-crafted as any film this past year in terms of production, story, and performance, “The Imitation Game” still manages to somehow come across not unlike Alan Turing himself — somber, detached and unappreciated.

The film is based on the life of British mathematician Alan Turing, who was a key figure in Britain’s efforts to break the infamous “Enigma Code,” a heretofore unbreakable cipher that the Nazis used to encrypt their communications during World War II. Turing’s theories and work on a computing machine to break the code were highly influential on the field of digital computer science and artificial intelligence. Despite all of his intellectual achievements and his huge contribution towards the Allied victory in WWII, Turing was convicted in 1952 of “gross indecency” for being homosexual. Turing choose to undergo chemical castration in lieu of prison time and, in 1954, committed suicide. Sixty years would pass before the British government issued a pardon and formal apology in August 2014.

Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock“) gives a masterful performance as Turing, who, in this adaptation, seems to fall somewhere on the autism spectrum as he is brilliant with mathematics but aloof, condescending and uncomprehending of the dynamic of social relationships. Cumberbatch brings an admirable sort of logical idealism to the character, a man who may not feel things the way most people do but whose single-minded pursuit of his goal allows him to make the devastatingly difficult but ultimately necessary sacrifices needed to win the war.

Keira Knightley (“Pirates of the Caribbean“) is surprisingly effective as Joan Clarke, a brilliant cryptanalyst who becomes engaged to Turing, who needs her on his code-breaking team and proposes marriage when her parents object to the unmarried Joan working on a project with men. Upon learning Turing is homosexual, Joan remains on the project despite his rejection because “this work is the most important thing [she] will ever do.” Knightley and Cumberbatch have a charming sort of chemistry in this film, a platonic bond of two brilliant people dealing with the heavy weight of societal expectations and prejudices.

Director Morten Tyldum was nominated for an Academy Award for his direction, and under his guidance “The Imitation Game” delivers mystery, tragedy and tension. Tyldum is able to weave humor and humanity into the procedural drama and intertwine them with powerful scenes of Turing’s heartbreaking childhood and the carnage of wartime Great Britain to keep the audience engaged throughout.

“The Imitation Game” was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actress (Knightley), Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design and, finally, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay (Graham Moore). That it was recognized with so many nominations but failed to win more than one Oscar speaks to the paradoxical but ultimately unfounded feeling that the film is somehow less than the sum of its parts.

On all fronts, “The Imitation Game” is a well done film, but unfortunately it dutifully checks off so many boxes on the “Stereotypical Oscar Contender” ballot — historical WWII drama, disadvantaged savant, social justice issues, period costume and production design, British actors, etc. — that it comes across feeling a bit formulaic through no real fault of its own. While the tropes are familiar, “The Imitation Game” is more deserving than many films that won Oscars simply by virtue of coming before it.

That really is a shame, too. This film’s only sin may be that it didn’t pander to Hollywood’s desire for tidy, crowd-pleasingly upbeat endings. Instead “The Imitation Game” is a powerful and gripping drama that doesn’t let the audience off the hook for history’s terrible treatment of Alan Turing.

“The Imitation Game” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack.  Special features on Blu-ray include:

* Feature Commentary with Director Morten Tyldum and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Graham Moore
* The Making of “The Imitation Game”
* Deleted Scenes
* Q&A Highlights

Film: 4.5 Yaps
Extras: 3.5 Yaps

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