The Imitation Game

January 6, 2015 at 9:09 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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American’s love a good World War II movie and consume no shortage of them. In 2014, we were treated no less than three, including “Unbroken” and “Fury.” Almost always, they include sentimentality, bravery and a healthy dose of Yankee ingenuity and, as such, I generally avoid them. While this film is no different in hitting all the basic notes, I found it more engaging than most.  Part of the reason is that these are not your typical GI heroes. Rather, this is the story of a group of quiet, British intellectuals and the role they played in ending the war. And, though I thought I knew that story, it turns out that it is far more interesting than I had suspected. I had thought that, once Enigma was broken, the story was essentially over: climax, denouement, credits. Not so and, what came next, though it was the sort of thing that was obvious the moment I heard it, it had not occurred to me prior. The story of beating Enigma was surprisingly engaging from start to finish. Benedict Cumberbatch (“Star Trek: Into Darkness,” “The Fifth Estate”) played the genius mathematician Alan Turing as an endearingly awkward savant. At one point, he is told that, in order to pull off the “irascible genius” routine, he had to actually be one but the audience knows he is and he will and, of course, he does. He stammers and lisps and struggles to make eye contact, all hunched shoulders and awkward gait, while appearing oblivious to some basic social norms and occasionally saying mildly offensive things (but not too offensive—we have to like him, remember).  This is “The Imitation Games” big flaw; it is so thoroughly a Hollywood movie. Every scene and every editing decision and every note of music fits into a well-worn formula. And like many of these types of movies, it wants it both ways: to educate and entertain, to be  traditionally all-American and progressive in its values, to be feel good & heart-wrenching & moralizing all rolled up into one. The film works best when it just tells a story but too often it is heavy handed, trying to bully and manipulate its audience. This is most egregious during a scene where they agonize over saving a boat full of children (children, I say!) only to discover that one of them also has a brother on the ship (because, apparently, it had to be that much more poignant). Likewise, the story of Turing’s sexuality worked best when it was simply told without commentary. The narrative jumps between his first love as a school boy in the 20s, his time breaking the code in the late 30s and then his arrest for indecent behavior in the 1950s. This was effective and, at times, very touching story-telling. Yet, it wasn’t enough. The film had to end with images of Turing and his friends laughing in front of a fire while we read about how many lives he saved, his tragic death and how many homosexuals were persecuted in 20th Century England. Okay, yes, I get it. Alan Turning good. Persecuting Alan Turing bad. Homosexuals can save the world if you let us. It’s moments like that when I found myself tuning out. It’s a shame; shave 10 minutes here and there from this film and it could have given us the same message without needing to hammer it home.

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