Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. Rated PG.
The title of The Imitation Game comes from a test Alan Turing crafted to determine the difference between artificial intelligence and the human kind. The movie itself gives off mixed signals in that regard.
Certainly, any tale involving the man who led the mission to crack the Nazis’ Enigma code and helped pave the way for modern computer sciences is bound to be intellectually engaging. And the choice of Benedict Cumberbatch to play this brilliant, supercilious, closeted, and ultimately doomed pioneer certainly pays off. Derek Jacobi also had a go at the posthumously famous mathematician, on British TV, where Cumberbatch tackled Stephen Hawking years before Eddie Redmayne’s run in The Theory of Everything. Imitation isn’t much more interested in actual science than is Theory, but does a better job of contextualizing, placing events believably within the Second World War and in the early years of the Cold War.
Graham Moore’s literal-minded script occasionally interrupts the central tale with repressed childhood background and highlights of the 1952 arrest for “homosexual acts”, leading to Turing’s death via poisoned apple—something it alludes to with clumsy symbolism. The persecutory scenes, with a curious policeman (Rory Kinnear, son of the late, great Roy Kinnear) asking conveniently expositional questions, are the most artificial, if you will. And the implications of autism to explain Turing’s antisocial nature and extraordinary levels of concentration seem force-fed through a modern filter.
Much stronger is the action at the top-secret Bletchley Park, where our flippant math man personally secured funding (from Winston Churchill, no less) to build one of the world’s first computing machines. But even there, the film reduces complex teamwork to just a few hardy chaps (with Matthew Goode the most prominent) who mostly give our guy a hard time. It also inflates the role of Joan Clarke (a so-so Keira Knightley), one of the few women in on the project, without showing the slightest interest in her as a person, apart from her connection to Turing.
All in all, this Game is a somewhat disappointing English-language debut for Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters), whose conventional choices include a syrupy string score by Alexandre Desplat. The real Turing, we can easily imagine, would have preferred the unorthodox at every turn of the gears.