Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turning Turing into a more-or-less mainstream hero: Morten Tyldum's THE IMITATION GAME

Alan Turing is a name known to many of us, particularly gay men, because he was a hero of World War II, perhaps the most important of them all, due to his breaking of the famous Enigma code which was used by the Nazis and changed daily to prevent its being deciphered. Some years back there was a fine British play that eventually came to Broadway -- Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore -- that starred a wonderful Derek Jacobi as Turing and told the tale of how the man managed to do this, at the same time as he struggled to hide, while still living as a homosexual in Britain (homosexuality was a criminal offense at the time).

Now we have a close-to-equally fine film on this same subject: THE IMITATION GAME, directed by Morten Tyldum (shown at right), with a screenplay by Graham Moore from the book by Andrew Hodges, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch (shown above, and below) as Turning. Mr. Cumberbatch is no stranger to playing odd roles -- Sherlock, Julian Assange, Khan in the most recent Star Trek (he even played Stephen Hawking in a TV movie a decade ago). Here, he beautifully nails Turing's strangeness (the man may have had some milder form of Autism such as Asperger Syndrome, which was never diagnosed back in that day), as well as his whip-smart intellect.

The Imitation Game is quite beautifully put together, weaving past and present into an exceedingly pleasurable experience to view and hear. It moves quickly but never jarringly, and it makes very clear the horrible injustice of having one's sexual preference criminalized. The screenplay is by turns witty and charming, smart and angry, and among its best touches are the numerous scenes of Turing as a schoolboy (well played by Alex Lawther) and its strong focus on the character of Joan Clarke, the woman who came to work with and for Turing as part of the the small group at Bletchley Park who were trying to crack the German code.

As played by the ever delightful and lovely Keira Knightley (above), Ms Clarke takes on major importance in a number of ways -- as a woman pushing to be able to work at what she does best (we're in the 1940s and 50s, remember) and as a kind of significant other for Turing. Ms Knightley comes through as she always does, with grace and grit. She and Cumberbatch work off each other quite beautifully.

The supporting cast, every last one of them, could hardly be improved upon. Especially fine are Charles Dance (above, right) as Turing's boss and bête noire; Matthew Goode (below, left) as the co-worker who initially loathes but finally admires this strange fellow; Mark Strong, (in bottom photo, center) impressive as his name, as an early MI5 member; and Allen Leech (below, right) and Matthew Beard (below, center) as other co-workers; and especially Rory Kinnear as the cop who suspects Turing of treason yet comes to regret his actions against the man.

The filmmakers and their cast have turned this tale into an oddly mainstream entertainment, and one that works almost perfectly as such. They've elided certain events and maybe people, too, for purposes of telescoping and storytelling.

While some of the language is curt and profane, there is no real sex of any kind on view, especially that regarding Turing and his same-sex preference. This will no doubt make it much easier for mainstream audiences to embrace the movie. Homosexuality is talked about but never seen nor experienced, so there is absolutely nothing here to shock or jerk a nose out of joint.

I admired the movie greatly and enjoyed it, too -- finding myself especially moved by the "what happened afterward" title crawl at the end of the film, which turns something that by all rights should make us feel bad into the feel-good instead. The track taken here may knock The Imitation Game down a notch or ten from anything approaching greatness, but it will certainly give the film that chance at copping the Oscar, a la The King's Speech. (If The Theory of Everything, which I have not as yet seen, doesn't grab that gold statuette instead.)

The movie -- from The Weinstein Company and running 114 minutes -- opens this Friday in both New York City  (at City Cinemas Paris Theater and the Angelika Film Center) and Los Angeles (at The Landmark and the Arclight Hollywood).

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