The Imitation Game review: Crushing an Enigma

Benedict Cumberbatch, as Alan Turing, is a marvel to watch in this World War II drama. Keira Knightley is in a superb form and director Morten Tyldum keeps the narrative flowing with delightful ease.

movie reviews Updated: Jan 15, 2015 21:17 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times
The Imitation Game review: Crushing an Enigma

The Imitation Game

Morten Tyldum

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong.

Rating: ****

Movie review: The Imitation Game is Benedict Cumberbatch's best performance after Sherlock

The world has always been uncomfortable with discoveries and discoverers. Prodigies and excellence have always been frowned upon, dissuaded and even punished. Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game tells us the story of one such genius, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who sweated it out to crack the German code, called Enigma, which the Axis powers used to cripple Allied moves during World War II.

Finally, Turing found a way to checkmate Enigma, thus shortening the war by a good two years and saving thousands of lives. However, in the process, he attracted attention to his own homosexuality. He was arrested when he was caught with a male drifter, and two years later, Turing killed himself. He was merely 41. Of course, it was Victorian England where Turing had to constantly apologise for being gay.

The film draws us to a desperate time in British history when German bombers were pounding their capital. London then engages six math and chess wizards to break Enigma, which sends naval instructions every day to the Nazis. The Enigma's code -- with a fresh one made every midnight -- is almost impossible to decipher, and this is when Turing steps in.

He is absolutely contemptuous of the rest of his team, and the others hate him as well. Turing's excellence is matched by his arrogance that puts him constantly at loggerheads even with his bosses (a wonderfully starchy Charles Dance as a seen-it-all Royal Navy commander and Mark Strong as a cagey MI6 agent). But Turing is a Sherlock Holmes who sees things which others can not.

There is one delightful scene where Turing is fired, but he manages to overstep his seniors by writing a letter directly to Winston Churchill, who at once makes him the head of the team.

Yes, some aspects of Tyldum's work may seem bordering on coincidence. It is not difficult to predict that Clarke (Keira Knightly), the only woman in Turing's group, will be smarter than all the men. And it also given that she would be attracted to Turing. They even get engaged, and when he confesses about his sexual preference, she quips, "So what."

However, Tyldum keeps the narrative flowing with delightful ease, and in less than two hours, he packs his work with information and a gripping sense of the war - some of it through newsreel snippets. In the end, when Turing builds a room-sized machine (which has now become an almost palm-sized modern computer), he names it Christopher -- after the boy at school on whom Turing has a crush.

Cumberbatch is a marvel to watch. The contrasts in him - comical when he is confronted with ordinary tasks like ordering food, and obsessive when it comes to work - are portrayed with powerful sensitivity. His inability to face the real world, the world outside his workplace, is almost heartrending. And Knightley is superb, a perfect match for Cumberbatch, demolishing the era's demeaning view of a woman's ability.

First Published: Jan 15, 2015 13:15 IST