reviewed by Tom-Tom
The time is 1939 and war has begun between England and Germany. It is also 1951 and police are investigating a possible robbery at Professor Alan Turing’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) home. Nothing has been taken but there is evidence of a break-in. It is also the early 1920’s and young Alan is learning about cryptography for the first time from the person who will grow into the unfulfilled love of his life. The events in each timeline progress seamlessly into a mystery, a tale of brilliant achievement racing against the clock, and of heartbreaking betrayal by a nation of one of its greatest war heroes who never fired a gun.
The Germans have constructed a brilliant encryption machine which the Allies have entitled Enigma. It is completely unbreakable according to the world’s premier cryptologists and mathematicians. Turing is sought out due to his published works on the matter and is interviewed by Commander Denniston, played by that natural depicter of men in power Charles Dance. Reacting to the news that the best minds in the world have yet to break the code, Turing retorts, “Well let me have a go at it and we can be sure.”
The period elements are all very well depicted in clothing, hairstyles, even in the use of numbers. Apparently, widespread parlance of “billion” and “trillion” is a recent phenomena. When calculating the possibility of combinations, the term 159 million million million was used by three people. People supposedly mathematicians using such well, baby sounding number terms seemed a bit fishy until I looked it up.
The race against time and the toll each day took on Allied lives is made quite clear which builds the suspense behind cracking the code. Turing suggests an unheard of strategy for the time of building a machine which can compute the possibilities for them pitting machine against machine. However, even if the code is broken, how to use the information without letting the Germans know?
The score for the film is beautiful composed by the multi-talented Alexander Desplat who has written as wide a range of scores from light and whimsical tones for Wes Anderson films to magical yet suspenseful tunes for the final two Harry Potter films to the monstrously yet appropriately heavy brass laden ones for Godzilla. Here, he seems to be channeling Thomas Newman’s minimalism to great effect.
The Imitation Game is a film full of complex questions and at times, merciless answers. Seeing Turing in the last years of his life affected by the sentence meted out on him is heartrending and Benedict Cumberbatch sells it very well with full face to the camera. The political machinations by MI6 and the race to decode Enigma are all well spaced out. Keira Knightly and the other decoders are all quite charming with their own foibles. I felt the sacrifices by the average soldier were downplayed a bit. Sure, the decoders were able to show the way, but the soldiers were the ones who had the fight the battles all the while with bombings and attacks being allowed so as not to let on to the Germans. It’s hard to sympathize with preppy types dancing in a bar when food convoys are getting bombed leaving people starving. There is a sort of detachment from true war casualties which are balanced in cameos of war devastation and amputees but still from a comfortable distance.