“The Imitation Game” finds great power in the clash of opposites, but it is dulled when the two parts come together.
The good news is that there are more creative spontaneous combustions than misses.
At the core, this is a story about how one man can be both a hero and an outcast. It is depicted through the mesmerizing performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the genius who helped bring World War II to an end two years early. He accomplished this through his team’s efforts to crack what had been considered an uncrackable Nazi Enigma machine.
Being able to break the German code and strategically use that information saved thousands of lives. It’s an accomplishment that has been broached in other movies and TV programs.
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Where this film creates a massive clash is by looking at how the heroic Turing had to live with the secret of being gay. In England, at that time, that was a criminal offense.
Cumberbatch brilliantly conveys the joy of being able to best the machine while laboring under a social yoke of not being able to declare his true feelings. The way Cumberbatch handles the collision is the strength of the movie.
It’s the way director Morten Tyldum presents the conflict that fails to find a spark. He is so cautious about revealing Turing’s secret that the gimmicky bookends of the movie play like an afterthought. Tyldum is almost apologetic in how he wraps up the tragic story.
Then there is the sexual equality issue exposed through Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Joan Clarke, the only female member of Turing’s team. Despite being one of the two smartest people in the room, she is treated with the status of a secretary.
Knightley brings her usual strong, but vulnerable, ways to the role. It’s just that Graham Moore’s script — based on the book by Andrew Hodges — doesn’t get more traction from the blatant sexism she endured. There was far more emotion to mine.
Part of the problem is that it’s hard to tell if “The Imitation Game” is about war, romance, politics, tolerance or crime. It’s a little of each throughout the course of the movie, but it never gleans on one long enough to milk all of the emotion and madness.
With a lesser actor, “The Imitation Game” would have collapsed on its good intentions. Cumberbatch brings such a raw personal passion to his work, he elevates the better parts to a superb level and keeps the miscues to a minimum.
He is especially good with Knightley, who can paint a rainbow of emotions with a look and a smile. She is a little tethered here, but she breaks through enough to make Clarke an interesting player in this social, sexual and synaptic game of chess.
There is strong support from Matthew Goode and Allen Leech as members of the brain trust, and Mark Strong adds just the right touch of military to serve as a reminder of the larger picture.
It’s the awkwardness of Tyldum’s direction, coupled with a lack of courage when taking on the story’s emotional heart, that keeps the production from breaking the code on what makes a masterful movie.