Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Imitation Game (2014)

THE IMITATION GAME (2014), which has received multiple Oscar nominations, is the story of tormented genius Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the cracking of the German Enigma code machine during WWII.

I thought the movie fairly enjoyable but am going to swim against the tide and say that frankly I found this film to be reasonably good but not great. As a matter of fact, there was another WWII film last year which I thought was better, THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014), but that film received short shrift from critics and no Oscar attention at all.

Ironically some of my problem with THE IMITATION GAME was the same issue some critics had with THE MONUMENTS MEN -- it wasn't the movie I wanted.

Just as some critics were disappointed that THE MONUMENTS MEN wasn't OCEAN'S 11 transferred to WWII, when it came to THE IMITATION GAME I was there for the code-breaking. I love a good WWII procedural, such as SINK THE BISMARCK! (1960), and I would have loved a whole lot more about cracking the code and the war. Alan Turing's lonely childhood was simply not of interest to me; watching a child tortured by his peers is not my idea of entertainment.

Also like THE MONUMENTS MEN, THE IMITATION GAME has a large story to corral, but whereas THE MONUMENTS MEN shifted from character to character in a variety of locales, THE IMITATION GAME shifts backward and forward among three different specific periods of time. It's critically important that the viewer not be dissatisfied when these story shifts take place. THE MONUMENTS MEN successfully negotiated that challenge, but THE IMITATION GAME did not.

I'm going to be a further contrarian by saying that I was not especially impressed by Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing. What's the old line, "Dying's hard, but comedy's harder"? I don't think it's terribly hard to look tragic, pained, and red-eyed all the time, and that was Cumberbatch's performance in a nutshell. Obviously my take is not shared by many people, including the Academy, which has nominated Cumberbatch for Best Actor.

On the other hand, I was delighted by Keira Knightley's nomination as Best Supporting Actress, playing the quirky mathematician who helps Turing learn to navigate relationships with his fellow code breakers. She was a breath of fresh air as a woman fighting for respect and the ability to work in a man's world doing some of the most challenging and significant work the world has ever known. She made every scene she was in better.

Two other actors especially stood out for me, Mark Strong and Allen Leech. Strong is one of those British actors with many interesting credits to his name, and he's charismatic and believable as Stewart Menzies, an M16 agent. One of my favorite scenes was when Cumberbatch and Knightley meet with him to explain their plan to use statistics to decide which information to act on in order to keep the Germans from realizing they've cracked the code.

Leech (DOWNTON ABBEY) plays one of Turing's more sympathetic colleagues who turns out to have an unexpected background, and I very much enjoyed his performance as well.

Beyond the above criticisms, the film's other drawback is that, like so many period films today, it has that fakey CGI "look" where the viewer is aware that a large portion of what's on screen isn't real and that the screen is filled with crowds of extras in costumes. I wonder if part of what makes it difficult to suspend disbelief in some recent films is the "feel" of digital filming. While a movie as recent as the 1979 WWII film YANKS looks authentic, filmed on real locations, much of THE IMITATION GAME simply looks computer generated or staged -- what I described in my review of SAVING MR. BANKS (2013) as a "phony retro feel."

Interestingly enough something else THE IMITATION GAME and SAVING MR. BANKS have in common is that I didn't care for the extended sequences depicting the lead characters' miserable childhoods. In each case the filmmakers' premise seems to have been that the viewer needs to suffer -- extensively! -- along with the characters in order to understand them as, shall we say, "tricky," socially awkward adults. That kind of storyline doesn't have much or any "rewatch" value for me -- who wants to live through it twice? I'd rather focus on the brilliantly creative minds which cracked Enigma and created MARY POPPINS.

THE IMITATION GAME was directed by Morten Tyldum and filmed by Oscar Faura. Graham Moore's screenplay was based on the book ALAL TURING: THE ENIGMA by Andrew Hodges. The film runs 114 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for mature themes and dialogue. Not for young viewers.

All in all, I found THE IMITATION GAME a flawed yet interesting film, worth seeing but overrated. This is a minority opinion at present so readers are encouraged to see it and decide for themselves!


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older