Review: The Imitation Game (TIFF 2014)

PLOT: The true story of cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) who – during WW2 – helped break the Nazi Enigma Code and helped shorten the war by several years, saving millions of lives.

REVIEW: It’s no wonder that so many directors have flirted with the idea of making an Alan Turing biopic. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more worthy unsung hero, with Winston Churchil himself having credited Turing as one of the men who helped turn the tide of the war. Considering the lives he saved, one would think he’d be better known, even with the Enigma material having only been declassified a couple of decades ago. A lot of that probably has to do with the fact that Turing was one of the most ill-treated heroes of the twentieth century, with his war efforts being rewarded with chemical castration by the UK courts after it was discovered that he was a homosexual. It took until 2013 for the crown to give him a posthumous pardon. Not exactly one of the bright shining moments in western history now is it?

THE IMITATION GAME could have easily focused on Turing’s tortured final few years, but while that would have still be interesting, it would have been a disservice to the man’s deeds, which deserve to be remembered and have now been immortalized in a pretty incredible film. Director Morten Tyldum frames his movie with Turing’s investigation by a police inspector (played by PENNY DREADFUL’s Rory Kinnear), before kicking into the extended flashbacks to his war years, which take up the majority of the running time.

All told, it’s a pretty fascinating, real-life spy tale, with Turing and his fellow code-breakers (including Matthew Goode as a particularly suave one) trying to figure out how they can possibly break a code with a hundred million million possibilities that resets every twenty-four hours. For a lot of the film, it’s pretty damn suspenseful, with their task seeming impossible. All this leads to Turing’s “Universal Machine” which is basically an early computer, which he spends years designing, to the chagrin of his supervisor (played by a deliciously smarmy Charles Dance) only to be protected by an MI6 agent (Mark Strong) with ties to Churchill.

Cumberbatch’s Turing is certainly an unconventional hero, with his initial total disregard for people, due to it being little more than a game for him. He gradually warms up once Keira Knightley‘s character enters the picture, with her humanizing him to an incredible degree, even though his homosexuality makes a romantic union impossible.

Cumberbatch is an ideal Turing, balancing his initially icy demeanor with a gradual awakening to the consequences of his work, all the while he’s forced to hide who he really is with the threat being that he’d be sent to jail even though he could possibly help win the war. It’s alternately uplifting, in that Turing has able to defeat all the odds and make an enormous contribution to history, and tragic, with his downfall and treatment by the authorities being inconceivable now.

Through it all, THE IMITATION GAME is terrifically entertaining, with Tyldum never getting too bogged down in the science, and allowing even the most minor characters (especially Kinnear’s investigator) to have moments that reveal hidden depths and make them memorable. It’s a truly amazing film, and seems like the kind of thing that will just about please everyone. But will that translate to Oscars? We’ll have to wait and see, but a nomination for Cumberbatch seems likely.

Review: The Imitation Game (TIFF 2014)




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.