‘The Imitation Game’: Film Review

January 8, 2015 1 Comment

I’ve been talking about this film quite a bit, bringing it up in casual conversation and I never actually took the time to write a review about it. I guess my laziness got the better of me, but with the 72nd annual Golden Globes arriving in less than 5 days, I might as well get it off my chest.

I love watching World War II films. Classics like ‘Enemy at the Gates (2001)’, ‘Uprising (2001)’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan (1998)’ are just a few of my favorites, but there were a couple of good ones released this year. ‘Unbroken (2014)’ is a pretty okay film to watch and ‘Fury (2014)’ is definitely worth looking at if you want something more action packed. However, if you really want something different to look at, ‘The Imitation Game’ is something worth considering.

This film peaked my interests, because there were no commercials for this film. It also wasn’t showing in any of the major film chains in America (at least, not in New York City, anyway). Most of the smaller, mom & pop theaters got their hands on this one. I guess with the lack of an American/international presence of star power, they decided it wasn’t worth covering the operational cost. Whether or not you’re watching in a Brick & Mortar theater or high-class theater chain, ‘The Imitation Game is a treat for everyone.

The plot of the film is to break an unbreakable encryption device known as the Enigma Machine. What is the Enigma Machine? The Enigma Machine (or Enigma) was the major form of cryptic communication during the second World War. It allows the operator to type in a message and then scramble it into many different combinations (over 400 million, million, as I remember). The only way to break an Enigma message would be to 1) have access to an Enigma Machine and 2) know the exact settings of these rotors in order to reconstitute the coded text.

With different amount of possibilities and a ton of messages being intercepted each day, breaking Enigma was no easy task. It was considered almost impossible. To make things more difficult these rotary settings were changed every 24 hours, so if you weren’t close to finding the settings within that time, all the work you’ve gained would be loss. Combined that with fact that the Allied Powers were losing the war at that time, and this makes for a very fast paced espionage film. With the battle heating up between Great Britain and Nazi Germany, the British government assembles six of the best math and chess whizzes to crack the Enigma machine.

The movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch, who has been in plenty of movies based in other countries that most people wouldn’t recognize. The most notable thing he has done was the voice of the dragon Smaug in ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy. He also plays Sherlock Holmes in the fabulous BBC Drama of the same name, Sherlock (which is streaming on Netflix). Either way, he plays mathematician Alan Turing, who is assigned by the Government Communications Headquarters, a British Intelligence agency, to break Enigma. Benedict’s character is not exactly socially awkward, but he is liked among his peers.

He is arrogance, shrude, and considered on of the best mathematicians of his time. Overseen by Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), the group consist of chess prodigy, Huge Alexander (Matthew Goode). He is considered the heart throb of the group, and he is the leader of the group, under Denniston’s authority.

Among them, you have the comic relief John Cairncross (Allen Leech), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard), and Robert Nock (Rory Kinner). Although I cannot speak for Peter Hilton, I’m certain that all of the names mentioned are based on the real people who were part of the team. Needless to say, these men are not keen with the idea of Turing working with them, and vice versa for Turing.

There were about two other people who were part of the team, but they are not essential to the overall story. Why is this? This is because Turing felt that he was better off working without them (along with the four others I have mentioned). Turning (like Holmes) can see things that others do not. In one particular scene, Turing request £100,000 (£4,844,091 in today’s pounds) for funding a project he believes will help decode German messages. Requesting an absurd amount, Denniston demands to know what the £100,000 pounds are for. Reluctantly, Turing tells him that he is planning on creating a Machine that can decode any message at any time of the day automatically. This laughable idea gets Turing fired on the stop; however, Turing on-ups Commander Denniston by writing a letter to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, thus winning his support. As a result, Turing is able to obtain the funding he needs and replaces Alexander as the leader of operation. As a result, he fires two of the other nameless workers I’ve mentioned earlier on the spot.

Being overwhelmed with the workload, and releasing the possible mistake made by firing the other two workers, Turing decides to hire some more people. But this is a top secret project. It isn’t as if they can post an add in the post. What Turing does decide to do is place an difficult word puzzle in the newspaper as an secret application. Winners would then tryout for an additional test before being offered the job.

And in comes Kiera Knightley (Joan Clarke), who is the only woman who managed to solve the secret puzzle. Almost immediately, Alexander dismisses her as a secretary who lost her way, and its not uncommon for such social stereotypes to have existed in the past. However, Knightley proves her abilities by finishing a puzzle in the time that would have taken Turing more than half to complete. Impressed by her skills, Turing offers her the job. Now all six main characters are working around the clock attempting to decode German messages and win the War, with not much luck I might add.

The film cleverly mixes drama with the style of film noir. While the cinematography is pretty good, it pales in comparison to the overall story, which is the best part of the entire film. The only female within the inner circle, Clarke, adds a further layer of interests involved with the movie. She becomes the only person Turing enjoys being around, and even decides to marry her so she doesn’t leave the group. What even makes these events more interesting is that Turing isn’t romantically in love with Clarke at all.

I also appreciated the twist little over the halfway mark in the film, and Turing comes to the realization that the secret that they’ve broken Enigma can never get out.

If the team was to ever inform or warn the Allied Powers about an imminent attack, the Germans would learn that Enigma was broken. This would prompt the Germans to retrofit Enigma with different alternations and settings, and all the work Turing and his team had done in two years would have been in vain. Keeping this secret was so important to the war, Turing was willing to allow a naval submarine to be ambushed by German U-boats. The same naval submarines were Hilton’s brother was currently on board.

Turing team now have a greater responsibility in the word. Not only are they decoding German messages, but they are wisely attacking upon that information, almost as if its a game of chess. Choosing which information to use against the Germans, deciding who lives and who dies. With the information provided, it was estimated that breaking Enigma shorted World War II by at least two years.

With all of the history we have learned about World War II, this is probably one of the greatest accomplishments even known. Aside from breaking Enigma, essential to defeating Nazi Germany, Turing also shaped our very lives the way we know it. He developed a machine that is known as the very first computer. Of course, mostly everyone today has at least one computer, but if it wasn’t for the work of Alan Turing, the world as we know it might be a very different place, for the good and bad.

Final Verdict:  A

This, along with Cumberbatch’s natural array, charisma and a talent for portraying arrogant and sherlockian superiority paints a brilliant picture of a genius at work. I really don’t believe the film could have been casted any differently.

Overall, the film is dramatic, funny and suspenseful. Even if you are already aware of the story of Enigma and Alan Turing (which most people aren’t, considering these records have been sealed for sometime), you’re never truly aware of how the story will turn out. This is guaranteed to keep you at the edge of your seats for the duration of the film. Like speaking to someone who makes you forget to check your text messages or the time, this movie will have the same effect on you. I don’t even remember turing on my laptop to take notes.

And I also know that ‘The Imitation Game’ has been nominated for 5 Golden Globe awards, and is competing with ‘Selma (2015)’ for Best Motion Picture and Best Actor in a Motion Picture. I fully believe ‘The Imitation Game’ should win on both merits, but I think ‘Selma’ will take  home both categories, considering: 1) It’s a story about Dr. Martin Luther King (something America is already familiar with) and 2) Hollywood tends to be more sympathetic to civil rights causes.

While ‘Selma’ is a pretty good film (I haven’t written about, because, what’s the point), the story is already all too familiar. While I’m not trying to downplay the work of Dr. King, the work of Alan Turing has a great deal of historical significance. Which one is more determines where your preferences lie. It turns into a balance between civil rights for African Americans or saving millions of lives and ending World War II. As I have said before, Hollywood tends to be more sympathetic towards civil rights, so I think ‘Selma’ win best motion picture, and best Actor in a Motion Picture.

Whether or not ‘The Imitation Game’ wins or losses in any of its nominated categories, it doesn’t change the fact that it is a definitely must see for 2015, if you haven’t taken the time to see it already.

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