A great deal of the films this holiday season have centered on oppressed geniuses. Steven Hawking struggled with disease, Margret Keane fought for control over her art (don’t worry, we’re getting to that one), and now in The Imitation Game, we have Alan Turing, the man most credited with the ideas that would lead to the modern computer, facing the trappings of a society that he does not fit into, that does not understand him very much either.
In the midst of the second world war, Great Britain is being crushed by the German forces, who use a seemingly unbreakable coding machine called The Enigma to thwart their every move. In response, the allies assemble a force of coding masters to attempt to break the code, the most headstrong of which is recent Cambridge graduate Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). Alan tires of watching his team struggle with the math on paper, so he ambitiously attempts to build a machine that will simultaneously ascertain which of the millions of coding options the Enigma uses is being put into a particular message. While this idea initially angers his team leader Hugh (Matthew Goode) and his superior officer (Charles Dance), Alan does manage to find support in the kind hearted and equally intelligent Joan (Keira Knightley).
While The Intimidation Game may initially seem to just be about Turing decoding this Nazi puzzle, what ends up making it truly fascinating is watching the puzzle of human interaction challenge Alan even more. On the surface, he’s a rather off-putting man. He’s brash, arrogant, and does not pick up on small social cues that seem so easy to his peers. However, as we get to know him, we find that there is a greater pain lying deep within this man that skews every moment that he lives on the Earth, leaving his intelligence as all he has. The brilliance of this character can certainly be credited to the writers, but it is without a doubt a testament to just how extraordinary a talent we have in Benedict Cumberbatch, who gives what is by far his most achingly human turn to date.
It would have been easy for a film with such a strong lead character to let him overshadow the others, but fortunately that is not the case here at all. The entire supporting cast here shines. Knightly does some of her very best work to date as the woman determined to bring the best out of Turing even at his worst, Goode finds a nice groove as his character comes to gradually respect Alan, and Charles Dance wears essentially the same ice cold persona as he does on Game of Thrones, but to very strong effect. The screenplay does a wonderful job of giving everyone a purpose, with punchy, potent dialogue to bounce off one another with.
The only major issue here is simply one of structure. We spend a great deal of time in the initial part of the story, but so much else happens in the second half, and it can’t help but feel like all of a sudden we shift from a very deliberately paced film, to one that’s trying to squeeze to under two hours. While I definitely appreciate the effort to keep things moving, the events of the latter part of the movie are so intriguing and tragic that I find myself wishing we had an extra twenty minutes to savor it. I mean, if a CGI fight between Dwarfs and Orcs can be over two hours, why can’t this?
The Imitation Game not only succeeds at telling it’s winding true story, but also excels as a character study of Alan Turing. It has moments of intensity, levity, and comedy, all very well balanced to create something truly engaging. Expect this one to be a major contender for awards season, and unlike several of the other major contenders, it really deserves it.