Benedict Cumberbatch is every bit the star he promises to be in the compelling tale of one of British History’s most tragic heroes.
‘These men will only slow me down’ says the cocky Turing of his team as he is first brought in by the government to help crack the Nazi code Enigma in 1941. The story of a man whose life demands to be on screen, Morten Tyldum’s (Headhunters) The Imitation Game is a film that will please crowds without ever taking the plunge that many would expect when adapting a life so tragic.
Armed with a supporting cast of credibility ( Kiera Knightley, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Alan Leech, Rory Kinnear), Benedict Cumberbatch puts together a masterful performance as Turing, who for the first act is an unbearably cold-blooded character to those around him. The first half of the film follows the efforts of Turing and his team as they solve the Enigma code used to decipher messages from the Nazis. Weightless and forgettable, the first third of the film is one that goes quickly before changing its tone once the code is cracked.
This is where it gets interesting. Every character, not just Cumberbatch, is held hostage by the moral cloud that hangs above the secrets they now know. The line between secrets and lies is balanced well in Graham Moore’s screenplay ( based on Andrew Hodges’ book).
It’s a film that is constantly changing in tone, from the jovial sort at the beginning to the darker, more personal side of Turing at the end of the film. Chemically castrated for the crime of being homosexual – the man whose feat Winston Churchill called the single greatest allied contribution to victory in the war – becomes an exile. Cumberbatch again plays his role with such nuance that through all the different facets of Turing we see, none seem too distant for him to grapple with.
In the final third of the film, the tragedy is one in which all guns fire at the target of awards season. It is certain to please crowds, even if the film doesn’t penetrate the torment and emotional agony with as much vigour as one might expect. The film almost takes liberties with the more complex emotional problems suffered by Turing, Moore being very careful with his approach to the part of Turing’s character that many find most compelling.
As an overall project, The Imitation Game succeeds on many levels to be a multi-layered piece. Both the first and third acts however fail to go underneath the surface to find the more tangled parts inside the story of Turing’s life and the code that he helped to break – perhaps to retain the film’s wider audience appeal. Cumberbatch, now a household name, does not fall short of expectations by any means – in fact he may exceed many people’s – but it does make one wonder just how much more could be achieved if more meat was there for him and the film to chew.