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Movie review: 'Imitation Game' a strong Oscar darkhorse

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(9 out of 10 stars)

(114 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual references, mature thematic material, and historical smoking)

The dark horse for this years winner of Best Picture, sitting solidly behind Boyhood and Birdman, is a wonderful film titled The Imitation Game.  Set during the early days of World War II, the story tells us about famed British computer pioneer Alan Turing and his triumph of building a machine that deciphered the Nazis Enigma military encryption machine and helped hasten the end of the war.

If I may boldly say, this movie is everything that a movie should be. It offers a compelling and little-known story and shines light on how truly significant Mr. Turings contributions were to the Allied victory in World War II. The acting was near flawless, the cinematography by Oscar Faura was neat and seamless, the production values were smart, and the writing was as strong and captivating as Hollywood has offered up in some time.

Based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, and adapted to the screen by wunderkind Graham Moore, the film centers around Mr. Turings near-OCD drive to defeat the Nazis encryption machine, while entwining two fascinating subplots   ̶one flash-backward and one flash-forward stories   ̶ that give us heart-breaking insight to the tragedy that was Mr. Turings life.

Renowned British actor Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Turing and rightfully deserves his Best Actor nomination. One of the more remarkable aspects of the writing is that it provides not only considerable depth of understanding of Turings genius, but breadth of character as well, and Cumberbatch skillfully entwines himself into the role and gives a performance worthy of all the critical praise. 

Trying to juggle the social struggles that most geniuses encounter, his ability to think on levels that most mortal men cannot gather and pushing the secrets of his sexuality into the dark, Cumberbatchs Turing is as complex and as fascinating of a character to hit the silver screen in some time. Let us just go ahead and give Cumberbatch the statue right now; he is that good.

Opposite Cumberbatch is Keira Knightley as Turings pseudo-love interest. I have always been impressed with Knightleys chops as an actress, and her work here stands toe-to-toe with her male counterpart.  I hope her strong performance will allow her to escape the Pirates of the Caribbean shackles and step into the Jennifer Lawrence-type roles of which she is worthy.

The supporting cast was just as strong, highlighted by Matthew Goode, and Allen Leech of Downton Abbey fame (the work the Downton Abbey cast has coming in the next year is ridiculous already).  The standout of the crowd is Alex Lawther, who plays Turing as a 13 year-old in the aforementioned flashbacks. His innocence and the range of emotions he expresses in these falling-in-love, coming-of-age scenes is heart-warming and heart-breaking all at once.

If the film fails at all, it is in some degree with explaining how Turings machine, named Christopher (which the movie explains well) came to work. The middle part of the movie briefly muddles in failing to explain how Turing goes from building his machine to actually making it work. We see repeated manipulations of the machine and, several scenes later, it just takes off and goes. Hollywood should know after the box-office success of Interstellar that audiences can buy into the science of matters, and these types of detailed explanations are not necessarily over audiences heads. This would have given the film a much added degree of tension as it reached its climax.

The Imitation Game has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Achievement in Directing by Norwegian Morten Tyldum. In his first real foray into American cinema, Tyldum certainly has made a splash and should be commended for how tightly this film is edited (in conjunction with editor William Goldenberg) and the performances that he got out of each of his actors.

Any person interested in history, such as myself, should be ashamed how little they knew about Turing and his rather amazing contributions to mankind. Not only did his work end World War II early and thus saved tens of thousands of lives, but he is the forefather of modern-day computers. There are some who suggest Steve Jobs Apple is named after Turings work (Jobs denied it while alive). It is not difficult to say we owe him much.

With any good work of dramatic art, in whatever form it takes, it should challenge what each of us think and know about our human condition. In this particular film, it shined a spotlight on a dark part of our collective history and, yes, it is still necessary and relevant because, as the saying goes, if we fail to remember our history, we are doomed to repeat it.

In the end, aside from the insight we gain of Turings too brief life, we are presented with several moral dilemmas and the films asks us what we would do if presented with similar situations. More sadly, we also endure utter distaste at humanitys historical (and ongoing?) ignorance and our ability for injustice against our fellow man. 

These themes are still pertinent today, and why this was an important film to make and, more important, for everyone to see.

Go see it at the Carmike before it runs out of Peoria.

I give this film 9 out of 10 stars.


About the Author
Who was that mysterious man you saw in the theater last night? You tried to get a look at him but he quickly disappeared in a puff of smoke, his cackle trailing in the air, leaving behind his calling card: a half-eaten box of popcorn and a lukewarm soda. He is Our Movie Reviewer named Tim!