*** out of ****
The Imitation Game is the kind of movie that the Oscars tend to love. It’s solid, respectable filmmaking based on a true story featuring an attention getting lead performance.
Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC/PBS’ Sherlock) plays Alan Turing, one of World War II’s unsung heroes. His codebreaking work unlocked Germany’s Enigma encryption machine, which in turn helped turn the tide of the war in the Allies’ favor. But he was also a homosexual at a time when it was illegal in Great Britain and he was prosecuted for this after the war.
On paper, it seems as if Turing might just be another riff on Sherlock Holmes for Cumberbatch, a troubled genius who has difficulty relating to those around him. But as entertaining as Holmes is, he always seems like a literary invention. Turing, even at his most arrogant, seems much more frail and human. His aloofness is both a result of his own personality and the scorn he’s endured from peers his entire life. Cumberbatch’s performance brings all aspects of Turing’s personality to vivid life.
The rest of the film is pretty good, but falls prey to some of the usual traps that befall biopics. Complex events have to be simplified and supporting characters have to be condensed. At times, the rush to compress important discoveries into cinematic “a-ha!” moments feels strained.
But overall, The Imitation Game tells an interesting story buoyed by strong performances (Keira Knightley, as the lone female codebreaker, also does fine work). It may not earn the Weinstein Brothers another Best Picture Oscar for their mantle, but it might get Cumberbatch one for his.
Next Up at the Fest: Early Oscar buzz is good for Cumberbatch, but it’s also good for Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, a film based on another tragic true story. I’ll be catching that Tuesday night.