Biopics always run into that sticky, dangerous territory where someone’s life is presented in the most positive way and have the negative parts either downplayed or ignored. Or, the even better one, where they turn some rumor or potential truth into absolute fact in order to sell tickets. In this one, I’m not sure I see either of those as present in the narrative.
Let’s take a look at The Imitation Game.
The film follows mathematician Alan Turing, one of the world’s first computer scientists, and how he helped to crack the German Enigma machine in World War II. At the same time, we see Turing as a schoolboy with a crush on a fellow student who inspires his love of puzzles and codes, and a story about a robbery which occurs at his house which leads him to be charged with indecency (what they called homosexuality) and forced him on hormonal therapy. The movie ends of both a high and low note, as the movie features a text about how after a year on the hormones Turing killed himself while it shows he and his partners in 1945 burn all of the Enigma documents in a joyous bonfire.
What I like about this movie is that Turing is, undoubtedly, kind of an asshole. He’s crass, he has no social graces, he’s literal, and yet you still manage to care about him as a person. The film doesn’t sugarcoat his life for our benefit, and that’s part of the appeal for the narrative. The film also shows Turing as an emotionally fragile man who tried to his best to do the right thing for everyone and being tortured by the consequences. The only creative liberty would be connecting the death of his childhood crush to the naming of his computer, but that could also be because I didn’t read the book this film is based on so I don’t know how true that part is.
In terms of the acting, Benedict Cumberbatch pulls out an almost Oscar-worthy performance. He manages to blend the different aspects of Turing’s bizarre yet highly moral nature. Keira Knightley, as Joan Clarke, is also a surprisingly good performance, though I never bought her as the reserved woman who cared about what others thought until she broke free through the power of math. Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, and Matthew Beard are also excellent as the rest of Hut 8, so hopefully they’ll get parts in bigger projects soon.
The writing is also fantastic in terms of the dialogue between characters, and may be the shining aspect of the film. The relationships developed in the film are surprisingly fluid and realistic, especially the budding friendship between Turing and Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode). Even the partnership between Turing and Clarke is endearing, even when he continuously lies to her, both as a way to protect her and keep her by his side.
The production values are pretty standard for a high budget. Everything has that slight yellowy/siena look when its in the 1940s (or at least I’m imagining it so) while the scenes that occur in the 1950s are more blue and dark, perhaps to show how bleak life was. The costumes look nice as well as being period appropriate, and there are no glaring anachronisms. The directing is also very good, with a clear understanding of pacing that has eluded some more contemporary biopics.
The Imitation Game is a film that doesn’t pull its punches. It understands that Turing was a complex figure, and how exactly to portray that complexity with damning or martyring him. It manages to do so with tact, grace and care, and thus makes for an excellent film. Hopefully, it’ll get a few BAFTA and Oscar nods this year around, edging out at least some of the competition.
– Great writing/narrative.
– Strong acting.
– Good production/cinematography.
– Some potential creative liberties.
– Some very very minor characterization issues.