Thursday, June 04, 2015

The Imitation Game (2014) ***

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the mathematics professor and electronics whiz who helped England crack Germany's Enigma code during WWII. “The Imitation Game” tells the story of how Turing and his team cracked the code. Jumping back and forth in time, the film also shows how Turing became interested in code-breaking as a nerdy, semi-autistic teen, and how in his later years he was convicted of indecency for being gay.

The story of Turing's persecution is certainly sad, but the movie is not a downer. I found “The Imitation Game” to be thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. This is partly because Benedict Cumberbatch is such a compelling actor that it is simply impossible not to watch him. He gets assists here from an excellent supporting cast, including Keira Knightley as a fellow code-breaker, Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister on “Game of Thrones”) as the commanding officer, and Mark Strong as a shifty MI6 agent.

The code-breaking part of the story is exciting, with Turing's machine clicking and whirring, but the film doesn't do a good job of explaining the machine and how it works. Also, the brilliant insight that finally allows them to crack the code seems patently obvious, the kind of thing that any code-breaker would think of from the start. More interesting to me is that after the code is cracked, MI6 (England's intelligence service) puts the team to work using statistics to guide them in how to use all those de-coded messages. They can't simply start thwarting every German attack, of course, or the Nazis would quickly figure out that Enigma had been compromised. MI6 also uses the existence of a Soviet spy in the service to leak carefully chosen information to the Russians when it serves England's purposes. I found these insights into the layered intricacies of intelligence work fascinating, and wish they had explored them more.

Ultimately, “The Imitation Game” is a nicely-done, enjoyable film, but it does require you to turn your brain off a little, which is surprising given that it is about brilliant people doing brilliant things. Somehow all the mathematics doesn't translate onto the screen, and we are left with a movie about personalities. I get the feeling Turing would not have approved.

3 stars out of 5

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