Based on Andrew Hodges book Alan Turing: The Enigma, Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is a fast-paced tale that focuses on a race against the clock to break a seemingly unbreakable code. The source of the dilemma is the Enigma machine, a device that could shift the war in the Allies favor if cracked. Filled with millions of mathematical variations, the Germans were sure that the device could not be broken by the human mind. They were right. However, they did not anticipate a mind like Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a man who knew the only way to defeat a machine is with a machine.
Jumping back and forth through time, Graham Moore’s screenplay crafts a biopic that is not only full of twists and turns, but ratchets up the action as well. The film effortlessly bounces between World War II, the early fifties and Turing’s time in boarding school in the late 1920’s. Being introduced to the art of code-breaking by his only friend Christopher (Jack Bannon); Turing’s skills where so ahead of their time that even the likes of British Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) could not deny that they needed him more than he needed them. Although Turing’s machine was essentially the basis for computers, the film does not use this to distract from the darker aspects of the story.
The Imitation Game does not shy away from Turing’s detainment, or his conviction for being homosexual, which resulted in him being forced to endure hormone therapy. There was also a major ethical concern surrounding how the information gathered from the Enigma machine would be used. If the Allies averted too many of the German attacks, then the enemy would know that something had changed and would attempt to rework their coding system. On the flipside, in order to keep the Germans off balance, the Allies would have to knowingly lead a large number of their own troops to their deaths.
Aside from moral debate at the film’s core, Tyldum does a superior job of focusing on the relationship amongst the code-breaking group. This is especially true for the rivalry between Turing and leading expert Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode). The film also highlights both the recruiting tools secretly used, such as puzzles in the daily newspaper, and the fact that Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) was one of the few women to work side-by-side with men during the war…which was unheard of at the time. Of all the supporting characters in the film, the most fascinating is Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong). A member of the newly formed MI-6, Menzies gets his thrills by keeping secrets, plotting misdirection and using alternate channels to get information.
Benedict Cumberbatch gives a memorable performance in the role of Alan Turing. He perfectly captures both Turing’s social awkwardness and his intellectual arrogance at every opportunity. Keira Knightley is very strong as Joan Clarke, a woman who is not only smart in her own right, but also helps smooth out some of Turing’s rough edges. The rest of the supporting casts does solid work with their respective characters, and help to bring added weight to Cumberbatch’s performance.
The Imitation Game is a historically significant piece of work about a group who did not set foot on the battlefield, but still made a great contribution to the war. Their combined efforts saved millions of lives and arguable reduced the length of the war by two years. The difficult choices they made are thoughtfully captured on screen in a moving, and at times tense, way. This is a film that I can definitely recommend.