The Imitation Game features genuinely moving moments, but time and time again they’re trodden on by melodramatic Hollywood tropes.
The Imitation Game has a great cast. Benedict Cumberbatch is undoubtedly Britain’s finest export, and with Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear and Matthew Beard providing quietly formidable support, it has all the makings of a masterwork. Even the sporadically annoying Keira Knightley puts in a relatively affecting performance. But with such talent going into the production, how the film manages to end up being so melodramatically bloated is an enigma in itself.
Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the acclaimed WWII codebreaker whose efforts Winston Churchill said marked the single greatest contribution to the Allies victory, and as the film suggests, likely shortened the war by at least two years. Turing – who is retrospectively thought to have been autistic – struggles socially, but excels intellectually and morally. In a successfully comic exchange with Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) at the beginning of the film, we’re privy to both the pros and cons of Turing’s forthright and literal manner. He’s portrayed as a troubled genius and a force of supreme altruistic goodness, but an unfortunately lonely and uncompromising individual. Cumberbatch’s performance is a bit like a much less snarky and much more altruistic version of his own version of Sherlock Holmes.
The plot timeline moves back and forth between Turing’s formative school years, his wartime efforts and his later conviction of homosexuality; with the majority of the story taking place during the war. The film takes a great deal of artistic licensing to embellish an already enthralling and heartbreaking story. It’s narrative suggests that Turing hid his homosexuality from his fiancée, that he faced accusations of being a double agent, and that he had a working relationship with a double agent/Soviet spy; all of which are unfounded or simply false. There isn’t necessarily a problem with any film taking any kind of artistic licensing for the benefit of its story, but it doesn’t seem that The Imitation Game actually gains anything from these embellishments. If anything they make is convoluted. It appears as though writer Graham Moore (feature film debut) and director Morten Tyldum (English language debut) either lacked faith that their audience would find the true story interesting enough, or perhaps more likely, didn’t have the writing and directorial abilities to successfully convey the emotionally complex true story on its own, without having to pour clichés and added excitement over it.
Rather than feeling like an adequate eulogising of Turing’s life and work, it feels like a reduction of the man into melodramatic sentimentality and pithy Hollywood tropes. Whether their intentions are respectable or not, it certainly feels like Moore and Tyldum are using Turing’s story for the purposes of their film, and not the other way around. To the film’s credit it goes some of the way to suggesting that the persecution of Alan Turing was sickeningly ironical given his efforts against the Nazi’s persecutions; but this again feels like a fleeting afterthought and isn’t fully given worthy attention.
The cinematography is largely disappointing throughout, it doesn’t seem to be either aesthetically or semantically directional. Director of Photography Óscar Faura has chosen an atypically saturated war-time appearance, presumably to suggest Turing’s distance from actual battle. But the cinematography in itself doesn’t seem to evoke much emotion, nor does it even look particularly stunning. It’s just a bit plain.
There are genuinely moving moments in the film, particularly towards the end, but time and time again they’re trodden on by melodrama. Scenes that could have been realised using the supreme talent of the cast are instead conveyed using montage sequences or overly present background music. Thankfully the magnitude of the injustice presented at the end of the film is captured well, with Cumberbatch’s supreme talent shining over any directorial or writing issues. Had the rest of the film been realised more intelligently, this could have been something special. As it stands, it’s a disappointing product given the exceptional raw materials that were available.
The Imitation Game (2014), directed by Mortem Tyldum, is distributed in the UK by Studio Canal, certificate 12A.