Monday, December 8, 2014

The Imitation Game Review

Whenever a biopic is made about an important figure, it should be understood from the outset that liberties will be taken with the source material. Of course. This is pretty standard. That doesn't stop all the countless internet articles from pointing out all the factual inaccuracies from such a film, but I guess it's all part of the process. Any story based on fact warrants fact-checking, we can't avoid that. What ultimately matters is how much you let those inaccuracies affect your overall viewpoint of the movie you just saw. Does the movie work on its own? Even if it's not completely accurate regarding its subject, is it at least emotionally truthful?

"The Imitation Game" attempts to be emotionally truthful towards its subject, mathematician Alan Turing. Turing developed a machine that cracked Germany's Enigma code during World War II, which helped the Allies win the war. He, in fact, played a very detrimental part in the victory, an essential part, but he received no official credit for his achievement until long after his death.

Turing's story is ultimately a tragic one. He was gay during a time when it was illegal. He subsequently was prosecuted because of his homosexuality and was given a choice between spending time in jail or chemically castrating himself. He choose the latter because he wanted to keep working, but the effects of the drugs he was given ultimately lead him to a brutal suicide.

That brutal suicide was something I had to read up on after I saw the movie. "The Imitation Game" wants to delve into Alan Turing, the mathematician, but it doesn't really want to dive in. It wants to shed light on Turing's homosexuality, but the light they shine is rather dim. This is to say, the filmmakers tried their very best to make both the math and his sexuality easy to swallow and this was ultimately very problematic for me. We never see Turing commit suicide nor do we even watch how he descended into such a fate. We are only given glimpses of the last years of his life, as the movie's primarily told in flashback. Of course the film's primarily interested in how Turing cracked the enigma code, but even then, the filmmakers take so long to get to the heart of that story.

Instead, so much time is wasted on portraying Turing as this socially-awkward, arrogant jerk who doesn't want to be friends with anybody. He doesn't want anyone's help with the machine. But, thanks to a bright young woman (Keira Knightley), he realizes he actually does need to work with these other brilliant people in order to successfully build this machine.

So much unnecessary drama is added in the first half of the movie. Clearly, screenwriter Graham Moore wanted to focus on all these different aspects of Turing's life, breaking the movie down to three time periods. Moore insists on giving Turing an arc that's riddled with so many cliches on how the movies portray scientists and mathematicians. While Benedict Cumberbatch is certainly game to play such a cold, calculating character, I can't help but wish that the writer gave Alan Turing (and Cumberbatch) more layers to work with. As it is, Cumberbatch's performance largely comes off as one-note. When the film finally gets going and Turing cracks the code, it's pretty exhilarating stuff. There's an oft-talked about scene where Turing and his team have to deal with the moral consequences of the work they're doing and it's the most gripping part of the movie.

Unfortunately, for a movie that intends to be a World War II thriller, "Imitation Game" largely comes up short. Too often, the movie goes the cliched, inspirational drama route, playing all the familiar notes one would get from a typical biopic and it's hard not to feel as if so much of this stuff was tacked on to appeal to a certain Academy. The most audience-insulting example is this line of dialogue, which is repeated three times: “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."

It's repeated so often that it's as if Graham Moore started the script with that line in mind then worked his way backwards. "The Imitation Game" just lays it on way too thick too often to be really effective. For a movie that intends to celebrate this unique hero, this biopic simply feels standard. Instead of portraying Turing as a tragic hero whose fate in life would surely anger even the most cold-hearted, the movie puts all its emphasis on Turing being a hero while making his tragic downfall feel like such an afterthought.

I give all the credit to Benedict Cumberbatch for keeping this movie watchable and somewhat enjoyable, but simply put, "The Imitation Game" is merely average. It's an insultingly average film.

Grade: C

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