The Imitation Game: A moving portrait of a misunderstood genius

The Imitation Game: A moving portrait of a misunderstood genius
The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Allen Leech.

The Imitation Game

Genre: Biography | Drama | Thriller

Duration: 114 minutes

Rating: 4/5

In some ways, The Imitation Game, which tells the story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician and cryptoanalyst who would eventually become recognised as the pioneer of modern-day computing, is a largely formulaic biopic. It is, in essence, about a man who is able to overcome adversity and seemingly insurmountable odds.

The story is largely set in World War II Britain, when Turing (played by Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch), is hired by the British government to solve Enigma, the Germans' system of encrypted messages.

Turing's plan to crack the code is to develop a machine that will be able to run calculations to intercept German messages, thus providing the Allies with valuable intelligence. But his social-awkwardness and unease when interacting with others initially rub his team mates and superiors the wrong way. Eventually however, he is able to win them over and develop the machine needed to help the Allies defeat the Germans.

Yet, there is still much to enjoy and admire about the film, not least the performance of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch as the film's protagonist.

Turing is not an entirely likeable character. He is shown to be aloof and unable to appreciate even basic social norms. But that also masks a more complex character, as he ends up being arrested on charges of 'gross indecency', which would eventually lead to his conviction for homosexuality.

Cumberbatch brings depth to the character while also not over-sentimentalising him. Through his portrayal, we are able to see different sides of Turing, from his brilliance and arrogance to his vulnerabilities and insecurities. The widespread recognition, including a Best Actor Oscar nomination, Cumberbatch has received for the performance is well-deserved.

The rest of the cast also turn in enjoyable performances, most notably Keira Knightley's portrayal of Joan Clarke. Clarke is a fiesty, independent, ahead-of-her-time woman who is the only one able to really understand and develop a genuine connection with the difficult Turing. The relationship that develops between Clarke and Turing, especially towards the end of the film, is moving without becoming mawkish.

Also implicit in the film is its strong message against prejudice and discrimination. The film obliges the viewer to reflect on how and why a man, who helped shorten the war and save thousands of lives, was never recognised for his genius, but instead prosecuted by the government and discriminated against by society for being "different".

Director Morten Tyldum, who is making his English langugage feature debut, wisely elects to keep the focus primarily on Turing's time at Bletchley Park during the war. This ensures that the film does not turn into a "highlights reel" of his life that only superficially touches on the major events. The movie itself begins after Turing is arrested, and also has further flashbacks to his formative years as a student. But this does not affect the flow of the film, and instead allows the film to develop a more complete picture of the man.

The Imitation Game has been described by some as "Oscarbait", a prestige biopic featuring name actors. Indeed, it received eight Oscar nominations recently.

However that should not detract from what is definitely a film worth watching. It is well-made, anchored by a fantastic lead performance, and sheds light on an interesting, misunderstood and important historical figure.

The Imitation Game opens in cinemas today.

seanyap@sph.com.sg

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