Sunday, January 11, 2015

'The Imitation Game' review

Every year during the Oscar season, there are tons of "Oscar-bait" films that seem tailor-made to win awards. This year, the prime examples are The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. I wasn't a fan of Theory, but The Imitation Game is a very different story. The British period drama benefits from an excellent performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, a strong sense of humor, good pacing and a tragic, memorable final act that strikes right at the emotional heart of the film. The Imitation Game seems like an easy, obvious film on the surface, but it's actually much deeper and more interesting when you truly get into it.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of the top mathematicians in the world during the early days of World War II. When Turing is recruited by a Navy commander (Charles Dance) and a MI6 operative (Mark Strong) to help crack the German Enigma code, he's up for the challenge. However, his prickly personality becomes an issue when he's required to get along with his other team-members and the government starts to get fed up. Turing insists that he's building a machine that can crack the code, but the British need results immediately.

Eventually, he brings in the brilliant Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) to help solve the code and quickly develops a friendly relationship with her. But despite his genius and standoffish personality, Turing is a much deeper individual than one might think, tormented by his sexuality in a time when being gay wasn't accepted. The Imitation Game explores both Turing's achievements during the war and the terrible events that occurred after the war.

While there may be more impressive physical performances this year (think Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything), the most emotional performance has to be Benedict Cumberbatch's stellar portrayal of Alan Turing. Cumberbatch manages to mix the awkward and the sublime with ease and it's a masterclass in acting. For much of the film, Turing is portrayed as being a rather off-putting and arrogant individual. But in the film's final third, Turing switches over to quiet sadness and it's rather depressing. Cumberbatch makes little movements that are absolutely devastating and it's a truly tragic performance. His character is so deep and interesting and I found new levels of respect for Cumberbatch after this film. He gives the performance of his career in a movie that could very well earn him an award.

The supporting cast is filled with British actors that give impressive performances. Keira Knightley is pretty good as the supportive and resourceful Joan Clarke. Her character was dealing with some of the same problems that Turing was (being an outcast in a society that didn't accept you) and it benefits the chemistry between Cumberbatch and Knightley. Matthew Goode is also very good as Hugh Alexander, Turing's womanizing, but highly intelligent partner. He's easier for the audience to relate to and Goode does a good job with the character. Mark Strong is pretty fascinating as well and Charles Dance does a good job of playing a jerk. All in all, this is a strong showing for the whole cast.

Cumberbatch's performance is awesome, but the film also benefits from Graham Moore's smart and witty script. He brings a sense of humor that really elevates the more cliched aspects of the film. And what's even more impressive is that the humor never really came from punchlines. Most of it came from the personalities of the characters and I found that to be very cool. Moore's script keeps the pace going strong throughout as well, and it's just a very good script overall.

Director Morten Tyldum keeps the film going efficiently and creates some very interesting and compelling shots while he's at it. The final shot of the film was probably one of the most tragic and sad that I've ever seen in a movie before. Seriously, it's great. Tyldum also clocks the movie in at a nice and compact 113 minutes, which is refreshing. It does feel slightly long at times, but I was never bored at any time.

The Imitation Game is a very good film, but is it a great one? I've struggled with that question for the last two weeks. Cumberbatch is definitely great, the final third of the film is tragically brilliant and Moore's screenplay is fantastic, but the film just hasn't stuck with me in the way that Foxcatcher and Whiplash have. I really don't remember too much of the film outside of its final moments and I think that's a major flaw in the film. Granted, I'm writing this review a few weeks after seeing the film, so that might have something to do with it. But I still believe there are some problems with the film (especially the first two acts).

The Imitation Game is fairly standard biopic fare, but it's entertaining, fun and features one of the year's best performances. Cumberbatch knocks it out of the park and the creative team did a great job of doing justice to a great man. This might not be the most innovative film of the year, but The Imitation Game is a highly enjoyable film that manages to thrill, entertain and sadden in equal measure. That's not an easy feat.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.9/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Movie Pilot, EW, Nashville Scene, Hitfix

1 comment:

  1. Well, that settles it. The Imitation Game is on my very, very short "must see" list.