By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s a period biodrama, a race-against-time spy thriller, a fascinating character study, a cerebral puzzle to solve, and a terrible wrong to right.
Yep, it’s five movies in one and all of them are engrossing and impressive.
The Imitation Game is a real-life drama about a man who changed the world, real-life cryptanalyst and logician Alan Turing, a British mathematician blessed with imposing intelligence and obsessed with artificial intelligence, whose extraordinary wartime contribution has been underappreciated until now.
Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Turing as arrogant and condescending and anything but sociable or likable, but eccentric in an admirable way that is oddly endearing.
The narrative revolves around the device that this code-breaking mathematician created that cracked the notoriously difficult, perhaps even unbreakable Enigma code that the Nazis used for virtually all their military communication –- from mundane weather reports to crucial tactical maneuvers — during World War II.
And what was it that he conjured up? A little thing we call the computer.
Prime minister Winston Churchill once described it as the single biggest contribution to the Allied victory.
Turing’s efforts essentially stopped the Nazis’ path through Europe, helping to win the war and save millions upon millions of lives.
Ironically, though, after their game-changing breakthrough, Turing’s team must keep their accomplishment hidden lest the Germans find out that their secret transmissions are being intercepted. So it would obviously be a very long time until the record would be set straight, although no one would have guessed that it would take quite this many years.
But not only was his part in the cessation of the war more or less taken for granted during the conflict — with much of his work remaining classified for decades thereafter –- but in 1952 he was convicted of “gross indecency” for the crime of being homosexual.
Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters, Fallen Angels), in his first English-language film, works from a script by first-timer Graham Moore that’s based on Andrew Hodges’ 1983 biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma, which was also the basis for Hugh Whitemore’s 1986 play, “Breaking the Code.”
“Sometimes,” repeats the otherwise crackerjack screenplay one too many times, “it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”
The title, by the way, is derived from Turing’s proposal that a so-called imitation game be employed as a means of investigating whether or not machines might one day be said to imitate humans and “think.”
Turing was brilliant and so is Cumberbatch’s performance, during which he ages from 25 to 41, lacks people skills to such a degree that he sets an Olympic record for self-absorption, and seems to be situating himself somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum.
And Keira Knightley contributes another assured and impressive performance as fellow code-breaker Joan Clarke, the only woman on an otherwise all-male team, also supremely intelligent but much more socially adjusted than Turing, to whom she is briefly engaged.
And they are complemented and supported by an excellent supporting ensemble that includes Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Matthew Beard, and Allen Leech.
The script not only details the breaking of the code by Turing’s team of code-breakers (half-a-dozen math and chess whizzes) at Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, but explores the theme of prejudice and what life is like for an outsider –- which Turing certainly was — in a society that punishes “abnormality.”
To say that he was shabbily treated doesn’t come close to capturing the tragic reality of the situation.
So we’ll encode 3½ stars out of 4 for The Imitation Game, a glowing tribute to the father of artificial intelligence that’s long overdue but well worth the wait.