The subject of greatness comes up during every Oscar season. It's usually the story of someone who lived in turbulent time and had either a major love affair or contributed to the world in significant way. Those films are usually beautifully shot, scored with great music and feature well known actors who deliver good, often career best work. And they always get criticized for being filled with cliches and that huge Oscar bait sign they should have attached to them.
The Imitation Game is all those things. It tells a story of someone who helped end the second World War, someone who was an outsider and who in the end had a very tragic life. But in spite of being baity and having such cliches as for example a young woman appearing after first 25 minutes to prove she is exceptional and becoming our leading lady to the main man, the film has so much heart and a great story. While The Theory of Everything was unremarkable other than for its score and was kind of a mess from the narrative stand point, the story in The Imitation Game is elegantly told and unlike the film based on Stephen Hawkins' life, it actually moved me.
You may think the movie about the machine that deciphers codes and an awkward man behind it is gonna be boring. But the Imitation Game interwines the scenes of Turing and his team trying to break the code with images of tanks, bombings and civilians hiding in tunnels. There is a sense of responsibility and urgency given to what those people are trying to accomplish and their achievements are never underestimated by the film.
What I really enjoyed here was how many light moments there were - there is a lot of humor in the movie and the chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley is absolutely charming. All of that makes the climax of the film more powerful - when a film ends on a happy note after a series of heartbreaking scenes it's all the more joyful. But this is the movie where the end is unjust and the worst thing is that this is what really happened.
Alan Turing's sexuality is showed in a very tasteful and respectful way, which only gives more brutal contrast to the way homosexuality was referred to back then - 'gross indecency'. Initially when I heard the movie didn't have many scenes depicting Turing's sexuality I was worried they tried to sweep it under the rag. But it is all handled really well which only makes the ending hit you harder - after all this man's sexuality had nothing to do with his work or his brilliant mind. And just like that when it comes up in the movie, it's shattering.
Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent in the role. He manages to make Turing feel like an antisocial outsider but he is never really mean even when he is doing and saying things one would consider mean. There is a strange innocence to him and that blind belief and conviction he has that his machine will work is mesmerizing to witness. There is a subplot of Christopher, Turing's childhood friend, and I do not dare to spoil how it relates to the machine Turing is building. But it adds so much to the story.
But it's Keira Knightley who steals the show. I do not think she is an Earth shattering talent but there is unfakable naturalism to her work. In fact, the only times she gave bad performances, were when she was miscast - like in Joe Wright's disastrous Anna Karenina. Other times Knightley is just effortless - this is the kind of quality that sadly often times goes unnoticed. Many people say it's a nothing role and any actress could play it, but it's a horribly misguided and ridiculous opinion.
It's a true art to act natural in front of camera and the entire crew when you are playing someone else and Knightley nails it. She really becomes Joan who is also a wonderfully written character - a brilliant girl who is still caged by what her parents and society expects of her. She is courageous and kind, selfless but also dignified. Joan has many moments when we see how hard it is for women - notice that I wrote is and not was - in the world. No matter how brilliant or gifted we are, this is still men's world and we need to fight every single day for the same things that are just handed to men.
Do not mistake me - Joan is not portrayed as some super hero. There are still many moments when she is crippled by the fact everyone thinks women are lesser than men. There is a terrific little moment when Joan speaks to Mark Strong's character, a powerful man, and he looks at her. He doesn't look at her with anger or malice but Joan still gets timid and looks down, frightened because she feels she should not have spoken up.
The way women are treated in the world is not the prime subject of the film but thanks to the script and Knightley's performance this little moment says so much and is so important. Here we see a brilliant young woman, so bullied by the society that it actually became a part of her reactions, part of herself - the self doubt and shame she should not be feeling.
Another wonderful thing about Joan is that she honestly doesn't care that Turing is a homosexual man. She tells him they are both different from others. She stands by him but to a point - when Alan offends her she strikes back. It's truly a very inspiring and lovely female character.
The supporting cast is also very strong - Matthew Goode is one of the most effortlessly charming and charismatic actors out there and he once again stands out here as one of the men in Turing's team. There's also Matthew Beard as another member of the team, Peter, who provides the movie with a lot of heart and innocence. Downton Abbey's Allen Leech is here too but I thought he was the weak link when it comes to the performances of the mathematicians in Turing's team.
Mark Strong shows up as Stewart Menzies, the chef of MI6 (apparently the basis for James Bond's boss "M") and as usual brings in his A game - his role is not very big but it's Mark Strong - as with Goode, there is simply too much charisma here to forget him after the film is over. Charles Dance plays Turing's superior and he is basically doing his Tywin Lannister thing here, so I was quite disappointed but it's not as if the script gave him many chances to flesh out his character. I also must mention Alex Lawther, who plays young Alan. His final scene is one of the most amazingly acted scenes I've seen in 2014 movies.
The film is not perfect - there is a detective investigation subplot that is given far too much screen time and the whole 'you will be my spy' thing between Turing and Strong's character derailed the movie a bit, to the point I was wondering if we are going to have a copy of A Beautiful Mind on our hands. Thankfully in the end these turned out to be small flaws, given how many great things are in the film.
The movie is gorgeously shot and the score by Alexandre Desplat is him in the top form. Desplat always scores so many movies, sometimes it is evident his work suffers and comes off as quantity over quality. But it's not the case here - the main theme of the film is incredibly memorable and simply beautiful and the entire score adds so much emotion to the scenes.
The Imitation Game may not be the film that will win Oscars and the film that follows the story the way you know it will follow the story, but it is the story you should be familiar with and that should be told - so that never again greatness can fall victim to prejudice.
The Imitation Game (2014, 114 min)
Plot: During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code with help from fellow mathematicians.
Andrew Hodges (book), Graham Moore (screenplay)
Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode