Andrew Hodges (based on; book)
What to Expect
When you have a period drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), Keira Knightley (Begin Again) and Mark Strong (Mindscape), you know you’re in for some performative ingenuity. But of course, that’s not the only reason film enthusiasts have been waiting for The Imitation Game, is that?
Directed by the acclaimed Norwegian film director Morten Tyldum (Hodejegerne), whose debut film Buddy skyrocketed on the amount of critical acclaim with its release in the rather modest amount of film festivals it ran through, this movie would definitely raise a ton of eyeballs, what with the kind of screenplay he’s chosen to direct being surprisingly subversive – even for its own rather repetitive bracket of what I’d definitely call the “Weinstein Winter Wonder”.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one having those thoughts. Having gotten out of the rather flattering premiere of the film at the Dubai International Film Festival this year, a friend of mine remarked – confirming my statement of the trend almost – that this was “your typical Harvey Weinstein December movie”, a statement that rings quite true for the kind of films it’s acquired distribution rights to over the past few years during their respective final quarters.
Which, of course, brings one to the rather skeptical frame of mind; would we be subject to a successfully made film, or a successfully completed to-do list?
What’s it About?
What happens when one of the brightest minds in the world decides to take up a job decrypting messages by the Germans to end the War against Britain? We find the invention of what’s known today as a “computer” – the creator of which was the famed Alan Turing (played with utter conviction by Cumberbatch; Star Trek Into Darkness). Armed with the help of Joan Clarke (Knightley), Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode; Belle), John Cairncross (Allen Leech; Grand Piano) and Peter Hilton (Matthew Bearde) and headed and supported by Major General Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), Turing successfully creates a device that’s used to digitally compute the codes Germans send each other, thereby breaking their famed encryption device, “Enigma.”
But is that all Turing is about?
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Based on the Andrew Hodges book aptly titled Alan Turing: The Enigma, the movie follows a rather tried narrative method for a period drama – the flashback. Filled with enough dramatization to hold the power of a tearjerker, the movie, however, doesn’t go on an overdrive of manipulation and instead works on the consistency of the rather involving narrative by Graham Moore. Tyldum is able to successfully include the two emotive tangents of progress and tragedy, allowing them to co-exist in peace with one another.
The problem, however, lies in specifically two things, the first of which pertains to the film – unfortunately – being a to-do list in its own right, ticking all the things that need to be done to prepare the perfect formula of a rather involving period film. Let’s run you down the checklist that’s almost as easily noticeable:
- You have the backdrop of war;
- You have the sympathetic protagonist;
- You have the forces that work against him;
- You have the ones who support him;
- You have the success and failure; and most importantly in the context of the film
- For biopics of the protagonists that met their untimely end, there’s the tearjerking way down their paths of hell too.
Of course, this list and how it affects people and their viewing of period dramas is a very debatable one, the discussion of which can go on for hours and hours. But I’ve been able to sense a certain pattern in the way films have been made of late, which has irked me to a certain extent. What really makes up for it is how a lot of the writing has a lot of focus in the direction of its emotive route and performative dynamics. And then there’s the absolutely strong dialogue that renders itself powerful through some of Cumberbatch and Strong’s absolutely effective performances.
But then there’s a second stickler with the film – its rather disappointing visual effects. Although present for a rather short time, the rather shoddy compositing sticks out like a sore thumb through the otherwise classy production design of the film, directed almost to photographic perfection by Óscar Faura (Mindscape). The edit is rather rhythmic with its tonal consistency, flitting smoothly between the primary and tertiary timelines. Alexandre Desplat’s (The Grand Budapest Hotel) music is sheer magic, having some rather minimalist sounds making a huge difference in scene.
To Perform or Not to Perform
The real savior, however, is how Tyldum has directed his performers to give their absolute best in the film. Cumberbatch gives his all to execute a rather applause-worthy performance that’s filled with nuance, sensitivity and a realist artifice that strikes gold. Mark Strong as the silent supporter shines through his role absolutely well, and – as usual – ends up giving an impressively controlled performance with winning effortlessness. Knightley is absolutely charming, and pours utter genuineness to her role, which unfortunately has itself kept on the back-burner to let Cumberbatch’s Turing shine. Matthew Goode does a fine job with his character. Leech, through his short character, is more fun to watch because of his interesting character arc. Bearde shines in the second half of the film, which is where his emotive leverage ramps up a few notches. Others are good.
Despite the rather predictable to-do list the screenplay abides by, The Imitation Game still remains to be a thoroughly involving affair, successfully creeping itself toward an uncomfortable emotive nerve of each of its audience by its end. Filled with brilliant performances by Cumberbatch and Knightley, the movie ends up having a rather good standing in the list of immensely watchable period dramas and biopics. And to top that, it delivers a personally discomforting message on humanity and how unfairly it’s judged that will most definitely strike the hearts of some individuals, at the very least.
Watch the trailer
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