MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Imitation Game’ Is Both Thrilling & Heartbreaking


Film: The Imitation Game
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Morten Tyldum

Though it feels created almost entirely for the purpose of generating awards season buzz for its lead actor, The Imitation Game is well-crafted World War II tale that is made a tad foolish thanks to bad CGI.

The story of Alan Turing is one that has long been needing a big screen adaptation, but it wasn’t until the last decade that his story found any real sense of closure. The reasoning for that is something I won’t give away in this review, but suffice to say there is a lot more going on in The Imitation Game than an attempt to crack Germany’s Enigma machine. That part of his life does play a major role in the story however, taking up the majority of the film’s near two-hour runtime. It’s a thrilling chapter from a life many never really understood, and it’s one that went untold for many decades.

It’s the dawn of the second World War and Alan Turing is a promising university student with a gifted mind and almost no idea how to properly engage with the world around him. He’s inspired to apply for the army not because of his desire to defend his nation, but because he loves puzzles, and at that point in time there is no greater puzzle than the mystery behind Germany’s message encryption system, Enigma. Turing, along with several other young minds, are hired for the top-secret purpose of cracking the machine’s code, which in turn would stop the nazi regime for good. Of course, nothing is as easy as it seems, even when that thing seems impossible from the start.

Director Morten Tyldum could have delivered a solid film if he chose to focus solely on Turing’s time working to crack Enigma, but it’s made endlessly more compelling thanks to his decision to weave the beginning and – to an extent – end of Turing’s story throughout the World War II narrative. It’s a move that not only allows audiences to better understand Turing as a man, but it also makes it possible to see the way the outside world can change the way a person sees themselves, as well how they present themselves to others. Tyldum understands the story of Turing is about far more than his accomplishments in the field of mathematics and engineers, but by using those elements as a framing device he’s able to pull in more viewers who might not be sold on a story that deals honestly with the real world experience of a misunderstood genius.

All of this only works because of the incredible talent lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch brings to the film. His work as Turing is a world away from his roles in Sherlock and Star Trek Into Darkness, though you couldn’t really blame people if they claimed see elements of those characters in this film. Turing is a social outcast who is perhaps all too aware of the fact he’s far smarter than all of his peers. He’s also a homosexual, which at the time the story takes place is still considered a serious crime. Cumberbatch takes all this into consideration with his delivery, and what we’re presented with is a man that seems entirely frightened by the thought of interacting with the world around him, yet has more confidence in himself than anyone you’re likely to meet in your lifetime. He’s bold, yet withdrawn, and though it’s never stated explicitly you get the idea Turing was the type of man who spent a lot time battling thoughts in his own mind. Cumberbatch understands the many layers that made this man such a unique human, and he makes it a point to expose each at various point throughout the story.

The biggest issue that I encountered with The Imitation Game was just how much it feels like a film created for the sole purpose of grabbing headlines and boosting the awards season discussion around its lead actor. Everything you’ve come to expect from Oscar material is present, from the complex lead character with a secret waiting to be revealed, to the time jumps necessary to touch on every major moment in a character’s life without journeying too far into the world of schmaltz. There’s even a well-orchestrated, though understandable subdued musical accompaniment that you know would never be created for a mid-budget drama released earlier in the year, but because this project may generate buzz from critics associations someone in the chain of command found the coin needed to make it a reality. It’s all bit too well put together, if you know what I mean.

There are also a number of sequences in The Imitation Game that rely heavily on computer-generated imagery to portray scenes of war and/or destruction. These CGI-laden moments are almost always rendered in extremely poor fashion, which in turn cheapens the overall impact of the story. The worse part is that none of these sequences are actually needed in order for the main narrative to be conveyed clearly. They seem to exist solely to show that the war is indeed happening, but as Turing and his counterparts work miles from the action it’s never a needed sight, which makes the fact they’re presented so sloppily even more frustrating than it would be otherwise.

When all is said and done, The Imitation Game is little more than a cookie cutter awards season flick executed incredibly well. The performances, direction, script, and music all mesh nicely, and the story being told is one that everyone should experience during their lives. That said, it’s hard to escape the notion this film would never get made in a world without Golden Globes and/or the Oscars. It’s worth your time and money, but it never does anything to raise the bar for cinema as a whole. It’s good, not great, and will likely be forgotten in five years time. The parts the do remain will be owed a great deal of thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch, who I’m sure will have no problem finding work from this point forward.

Grade: A-

Review written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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