The Imitation Game (2014) (PG-13)

"The Imitation Game" is an easy success. It hits all the right notes, plucks all the right strings, shows all the right emotions, and has just the right amount of tears. Unfortunately, this is also what sinks it down to just an ordinary level of drama, never managing to escape the tropes already established. But they are good cliches and this movie utilizes them quite well, which is why it's a crowd-pleasing easy success.
The movie operates in three distinct times: during WWII, after WWII, and during the schooldays of Alan Turing. Because of this ever shifting back and forth from "present day"1951 back to the 40s and then further back still, we get a very obvious look at Alan Turing's life and the problems that arose thereof.
The British army is hiring cryptographers for an uber-secret mission. Commander Denniston (Charles Dance of "Game of Thrones" fame) is the military head of this operation, which seeks to crack the Nazi code-generator, named "Enigma". Enigma is a simple looking machine and impossible to solve, so say the skeptics. But Alan Turing loves a good challenge and he sees the 159 million million different possibilities not as futile; but as an exercise in brain stimulation.
Turing is not that popular among his cohorts and the head of the small team of code-breakers Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) does his best not to become physically violent towards Alan. Alan knows how to push buttons, and he does this quite unintentionally. A simple conversation about lunch turns into a frustrating dialogue in which Alan assumes that everyone is there to serve him. It doesn't help anyone's friendship that Alan demands to work by himself and constantly insults his coworkers.
There is this campy humor that underlies the entire movie, a quiet witticism that does not really belong in a heavy drama about the second world war. An example of this would be Alan writing to none other than Winston Churchill himself, asking to be placed as Hugh's replacement, heading up the team that will try to crack Enigma. The audience loves a good Benedict Cumberbatch one-liner and "The Imitation Game" is filled with them.
After replacing Hugh, Alan decides that he should make a contest of sorts to see who should help round out the rest of the team—in doing so he comes in contact with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). The movie makes obvious pains to show what it was like for a smart woman in a man's world in the 1940s. Constantly belittled, the viewer cheers as Joan soars to the top of the proverbial class of code-breakers. It's quite unrealistic, but fun nonetheless.
Enigma is a puzzle that changes daily. There is an 18 hour window that the group has before the radio communication ceases and the machine is reset with a new set of codes.
It's impossible to solve this with just a man's mind, so Alan is convinced. He begins to construct "an electronic brain" that will analyze the incoming code and translate it into something tangible.
While the rest of the team is still toiling over the incoming messages, Alan has walled himself off in another building, while he constructs his machine. He calls it "Christopher" and the fate of the war depends on its success.
"The Imitation Game" does not do anything that a plethora of movies haven't done before. We see a wounded genius figure with a troubled past, rising above the criticism and achieving something that could only be described as "heroic". This is one such example of a movie whose ending we know before we even go into it. Do we really expect Alan Turing to fail at building his machine and the Nazis to win the war? No, the audience has a sense of comfort as they enter the theater, knowing that good will prevail. Any real suspense disappears.
And the "genius sections" are all typical. We see juxtaposed images of Alan running and then sprinting, giving his all, next to scenes in which he's sketching the blueprints for his code-cracking machine. We see his mental process as a physical thing, something arduous and draining and Alexandre Desplat's inspiring score only helps to make us sympathize with Alan. But it's all very typical and hard to view with anything but jaded eyes, since we have seen it so many times before and often from the Weinstein Company.
The largest problem with the movie is that it is both keenly interested and uncaring towards Alan's life. The film tackles the issue of Alan's sexuality with class, never trying to cover up the fact that Alan was a homosexual. Here there are critiques of the government and the threat of what could happen to Alan horrifies the audience. But there is a scene in which Alan likens humans to machines and we begin to see homosexuality as a difference in code instead of something human.
For a man who ended up killing himself, it's almost offensive that "The Imitation Game" ends as happily as it does, with the Oscar-bait end synopses and the slow motion parade of stereotypes. Like I said, the movie does them well; but Alan Turing's life doesn't deserve to be made this comical, this stereotypical, nor this uplifting.
In the end, "The Imitation Game" is a movie about a group of people racing against time to solve Nazi codes, and that intensity is never conveyed to the screen. There is a distance from the war that they all experience and the film does as well. It's claustrophobia without the phobia. At some times, even when horrible decisions that carry the weight of hundreds of people have to be made, it's almost a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders that the viewer gives because we have been given no reason to feel the horrors of the war.
Solid performances (Charles Dance is wonderful in this, as is Mark Strong), though nothing up to the caliber of previous biopics similar to this like Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind", nice sets, believable's all almost there, yet it doesn't quite stray from the norm enough to be anything other than a condensed and watchable version of what was surely a desperately complex situation.

Score: ★★★

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