The Imitation Game [Review]
While well-known in academic computer circles, the name Alan Turing has taken some time to work its way into public view, somewhat surprising given his pioneering work in computing and his deep contributions to the World War II Allied codebreaking effort. The Imitation Game sheds some much-needed light on both of these accomplishments, as well as one cause of Turing’s relative obscurity, the disgrace and downfall resulting from his 1952 conviction for homosexual indecency. The film is well acted and, for the most part, solidly constructed, although one might wish for a bit more time for the intriguing third act.
The film depicts Turing across three time periods: wartime work at British codebreaking center Bletchley Park, public school as a teenager, and his indecency arrest. Director Morten Tyldum and the screenplay by Graham Moore do a better than average job of bouncing around the three, although the script does succumb to the usual temptation of “based on a true story” historical revision. The bulk of the running time is spent at Bletchley, where Turing literally races against time to build “Christopher”, an untested computer design intended to break the encryption of German naval radio transmissions. While the film does detail some of his theories, and alludes to others, the focus is on Turing himself, his eccentricities, relations, and secrets. Benedict Cumberbatch is as good as advertised in the lead, capturing some of the man’s quirks while remaining sympathetic, and even funny. The cast around him is also strong.
The Imitation Game shows considerable patience during the construction of Turing’s computer, so it is unfortunate that Tyldum’s pacing falters after Turing’s breakthrough against the German encryption. The Allies’ struggle over how much intercepted information they can use without tipping their hand to the Germans is a fascinating historical wrinkle, taking the film into darker territory. MI6 spy chief Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) provides a bridge from one war to another in the runup to the Cold War, although this subject is barely touched on in the film.
Inevitably, the narrative returns to Turing’s conviction and its aftermath, and Tyldum is successful at bringing the proceedings to a close with some emotional punch. However, it is disappointing that the moral quandaries of the success of the codebreaking effort, and of the end of the war in general, are not explored further. The Imitation Game has been released with an aim at awards season biopic gold, and is deserving enough to take some home, but also marks a missed opportunity to go beyond some conventional limits.
UGeek Rating: 8/10