Directed by Morten Tyldum.
2014. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Without turning this into a history class, we'll start with the fact that Germany was kicking everyone's butt, pretty handily winning World War II for quite some time, and leave it at that. Well, there is one other piece of info you'll need which the movie freely volunteers. A large part of their success was due to being able to stay one step ahead of Allied Forces. To do so, they transmitted messages via an encrypting machine called The Enigma. It put there messages into what was thought to be an uncrackable code thanks to all the fruitless man-hours put into trying to solve its riddle. To continue along that path, Great Britain decides to form a top secret team of the brightest minds they can find and put them on the job. One of these minds belongs to Alan Turing (Cumberbatch). Immediately after the team gets started, everyone realizes that he doesn't play well with others. While his co-workers keep trying to crack the code by hand, he puts all of his effort into designing a machine that will be able to do the job. Alan working on this machine while occasionally taking strides toward being an actual human being ensues.
In the lead, Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly aloof, arrogant, and guarded. We don't necessarily like him, but we're intrigued by him. He knows that his intelligence combines with his demeanor to intimidate people. Turing brandishes this like a weapon. Watching him interact with people at work is akin to listening in on psychological warfare. In more social settings, it's like watching a robot trying to understand human emotion. Cumberbatch conveys all of this flawlessly, aided by excellently written dialogue and a wonderful supporting cast. As his main rival, Hugh Alexander, Matthew Goode is the cool cat of the bunch. He's good with the ladies, believes strongly in having a life outside of work, and yet, is still dedicated to his job. He is also quite vocal about his dislike of Alan. We don't mind because he often says the things we're thinking.
The true gem of the cast is its only woman of any consequence. As Joan Clarke, Keira Knightley brings a warmth missing from the rest of the film. Her scenes are full of life and humor. This includes a number of tender and funny moments that occur when she shares the screen with Cumberbatch. Those scenes hinge on the issue of Turing's sexuality which, by itself, is a subplot. The focus is mostly on him hiding it from people of authority due to the time in which all this takes place. Secondarily, it's about how this affects the relationship between Turing and Clarke. This is easily the most heartfelt aspect of the movie. We can see there is love between them even without sexual attraction, at least on his part. Knightley sells it to us so thoroughly we have no choice but to buy it.
As well as the relationship between Turing is Clarke is done, it highlights the largest issue with The Imitation Game. The overriding issue that has brought all these people together is approached with the same coldness that Turing himself is shown to employ. The best WWII movies, whether combat based or not, manage to humanize those involved and/or those affected in such a way that our empathy for them overshadows the foregone conclusion. That we know the outcome is rendered irrelevant other than it being used to make us feel how the film makers want us to feel. As viewers, we become trapped in the moment of their struggles, forgetting which side of history they fall on. This film never does that. It gives us office politics, computations, statistics, and a subplot about espionage clumsily slammed into place, but ultimately of no importance. No one on screen seems to actually be affected by the war until a late-film admission by one of Turing's co-workers. This is met with heartless logic. As a result, the film fails to make us feel anything with regard to its main plot.
As biopics go, The Imitation Game is a good one. Its stars all turn in outstanding performances led by Cumberbatch's Spock-like portrayal of Turing. It moves along swiftly enough that its runtime never becomes laborious. By the same token, the meat of the story isn't appetizing enough to sink our teeth into, nor succulent enough to savor if we do. This undermines the tastier sides to leave us with an adequate, yet not completely satisfying meal.