And The Nominees for Best Actor in A Motion Picture Are…
Benedict Cumberbatch. If a presenter in this year’s Academy Awards doesn’t announce his name at least once, a riot may break out. Pitchforks, flaming Molotov cocktails and copies of the BBC Sherlock Holmes on DVD will be thrown at the stage. More than one fan will scream, “KHAAAANNN.”
And I’ll be right along with them. Built off the back of his powerful portrayal of English mathematician Alan Turing, The Imitation Game is a frightening yet engaging look into the world scientific espionage. If biopics are a fast track to the Oscars, expect this one to scream towards the podium with an Acme rocket on its back.
The film tracks the major plot points from the life of Alan Turing, an English mathematician tasked by the British government to crack Germany’s Enigma code during World War 2. The film not only goes through the process of breaking the unbreakable, it looks into who Turing was as a person: cold, confident and haunted by a deeply personal secret.
As I’ve previously raved, Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing is by far my favorite male performance of the year thus far. Whether he’s stonewalling a British general or breaking down emotionally, Cumberbatch is an actor in full command of his craft. As a single-minded genius, he’s good at alienating his fellow code crackers but even when he’s at his most prickly, Turing somehow remains a sympathetic character. A well rounded character buoyed by a fantastic performance.
Like a great athlete, he also makes everyone around him better. The rest of the cast hits every pitch that comes their way. Keira Knightley backbones a strong, charismatic female lead, Matthew Goode lends charisma to his role as Turning’s co-worker and Mark Strong is downright terrifying as the MI6 agent who secretly runs the show.
The cast, while memorable, have screenwriter Graham Moore to thank for spinning them gold. The script is exceptional, full of sharp dialogue and clever ways to tell the deceptively complex story. Retelling historical stories can fall into PBS documentary zone but Moore avoids this by peppering the screenplay with an even helping of humor, drama and strong character building.
Director Morten Tyldum pulls everything together with an expert hand. With even pacing using traditional techniques, Tyldum pulls tension and great performances from his cast. The cinematography reminded me of 2012’s The King’s Speech. Simple and straightforward yet highly effective.
The story, however, is anything but easy. As the layers of Turing’s story unfold, themes are constantly bubbling to the surface. What starts as a simple “quest for the answer” becomes full out espionage with tons of twists and turns. At times, the second half war games between MI6 and the code crackers gets a bit jumbled and rushed but the film never loses focus.
The Imitation Game also does a great job of doling out the story in a series of time jumps. While the constant year reminders are a bit clunky, the intrigue it adds to the story is worth it. And when Turing’s personal life is brought into focus halfway through, the film jumps to another level.
In a world where filmmakers try their best to be too cool, too dark or too “filmy”, it’s nice to see a movie that feels a bit old school. With great tension, a fine script and a knockout performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game is a fascinating and engrossing portrait of an unlikely World War 2 hero.
Score: 9 out of 10