Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance: a cast of superb actors all boiled down to one pivotal role. The Imitation Game focuses all its attention on Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) cracking Enigma, the German cipher during WWII, and pays little attention to the other characters alongside. Cumberbatch masterfully portrayed the insular and wholly unique Turing throughout, allowing a connection with the audience that was almost impossible for Turing to achieve with people during his lifetime. His final scenes of frailty were poignant and moving, blending Turing’s early moments at boarding school to the Enigma and Christopher machines and creating a soft juxtaposition between Turing who was falling apart and Joan Clarke (Knightley) his friend and once fiancé.
Cumberbatch’s Turing was the only character given space to develop throughout the film, which is frequent problem of the biopic genre. Knightley’s Clarke was used predominantly as a connection to Christopher, the only man who truly understood and accepted Turing, and a way for Turing to flourish in this cooperative war setting. Goode’s Hugh Alexander was a foil to Turing’s aloof, out of place character traits. He played the attractive, flirtatious man successfully but had little else to do. Charles Dance’s Commander Dennison was the strict antagonist to Turing that was meant to create the tension and adversity the film needed, however it never followed through. It seemed a waste to include such high quality actors in the surrounding roles without giving them more than a one dimensional figure to portray. Knightley was the only one to almost escape her fate, as the emotional range she is able to bring to any role allowed for a matching in skill in scenes between her and Cumberbatch.
Apart from the performances this film will be remembered for, it has little else to offer.
It shows black and white footage of the war and people dying to firmly root the audience in the wartime setting, however it never fully achieved this goal. The Bletchley circle was far removed from the war setting of London bombings, and even more so from the European battles and destruction shown in these clips. Turing states they were in a war against time, not the enemy, but the audience was not kept aware of this time crunch to feel any tension or anticipation of what was to come. Although the score provided a feeling of inquisitiveness and confusion, it was missing a sense of timeliness that would have benefited the pace of the film.
What it needed but lacked was a catalyst for tension that would keep the audience engaged in the story through to the end of act three. At the beginning, Turing is against the world. No one really understands him or accepts his idea for how to solve the problem of Enigma. By the middle, he has begun to warm up to his colleagues through the introduction of Clarke. Yet the third act takes a turn by solving the Enigma machine earlier in the film than expected and instead focusing on Turing’s homosexuality in 1940s society. Although a very interesting topic, it was revealed earlier in the film than could allow for suspense and the explanation of gross indecency charges and consequences were dealt with in a single scene. By the summary text before the final credits, the entire movie had been brought to rest on this one aspect of Turing’s life, and made the Enigma machine almost obsolete.
7/10 for the wonderful character portrayal, and not much else. The Imitation Game has seven Oscars nominations.