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With: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Rory Kinnear
Written by: Graham Moore
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking
Running Time: 114
Date: 12/12/2014

The Imitation Game (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Code Blooded

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The moment I first heard about Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game, it was connected with the word "Oscar." Of course, Alan Turing is an extraordinary historical figure, and he was most deserving of a good movie; an earlier feature film about this same material, Michael Apted's Enigma (2002), did not mention him. The Imitation Game is a fine, likable feature, but it feels polished and simplified, as if concerned with not pushing too far in any one direction. Could it have been made specifically for Oscar voters?

Benedict Cumberbatch is perhaps one reason this movie might not have been made until now; it's difficult to imagine anyone else, ever, playing Turing. Turing is a mathematical genius who signs on to a secret government project, learning how to crack the German Enigma code machines, through which all their wartime intelligence is transferred. Its system of letters and numbers allowed for hundreds of millions of possible combinations, and a new code was chosen each day.

The movie's heartbreaking twist comes when, of course, a solution is discovered, but a new question comes up. How can this solution be used without tipping a hand to the enemy?

Turing is antisocial and uncooperative, constantly rubbing his colleagues the wrong way. In a subplot, we learn that he is also gay, which, at the time, holds considerable consequences if he is discovered. However, the movie doesn't go any further with this. He's not shown to have any desires, crushes, stirrings, or longings. He's basically an asexual homosexual, totally non-threatening to the Oscar voters that failed to choose Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture in 2005.

Instead the movie gives us plucky heroine Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who is introduced in the old "sorry, miss... secretaries aren't allowed in here" motif. The audience is allowed to feel superior and satisfied because we know before anyone else does that she's smart enough to play with the big boys. She and Turing develop a strong friendship, and he even proposes to her, perhaps hoping to cover up his dark secret, but also looking for a good partner in life.

The movie flashes back to Turing's unhappy boarding school days, falling in love with a boy there, and having that love cruelly ripped away from him; it flashes forward to the days following the war, in which his heroism must be kept secret, and instead he is arrested for "gross indecency," and forced to take libido-killing drugs. (The closing crawl reports that Turing killed himself at age 41in 1954.)

But the movie really crackles as the codebreakers try to tackle the nefarious machine. Director Tyldum (Headhunters) and screenwriter Graham Moore manage to keep the mathematics simple enough for general audiences (and Oscar voters) to follow and still feel smart about it. As with many biopics, breakthrough moments come during seemingly innocuous scenes when the main character sees or hears something unrelated that suddenly triggers the Answer.

Disappointingly, the title, The Imitation Game, comes from a paper that Turing wrote later about the nature of artificial intelligence, and, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the movie itself. It's both an awkward, misleading title, and also does not really touch on that very fascinating subject.

So what works about this movie? There's Cumberbatch, a terrific actor, pulling off some of his best work, playing a maddening, brilliant man and making him compelling. There's Knightley, who has one of her best roles in a long time. There's the general crisp, good-looking quality of the movie, and the fact that it has a good, strong pace. Alexandre Desplat's score helps establish a dramatic tone.

And, despite the fact that it has been scrubbed, tucked, and buffed, Turing's true story is still quite powerful. He's a genuine hero with complex credentials, and a man unjustly punished. The movie takes this one-of-a-kind fellow and turns him into someone we can empathize with and continue to think about.

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