Telluride 2014: Cumberbatch is Remarkable in 'The Imitation Game'
by Alex Billington
August 30, 2014
You never know who will change the world, it might be someone we can't imagine. There's nothing like that feeling of euphoria after sitting through an outstanding film, one that surpasses expectations and provides so much more on top of any/everything one could imagine. That's how I felt at the end of The Imitation Game, a film by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) about British mathematician Alan Turing, who helped crack the uncrackable Engima code during World War II. The film tells his life story jumping between his youth, his work during WWII, and time after when he was prosecuted for "indecency" because he was "a homosexual". It's an exceptionally compelling film lead by remarkable performances.
The title The Imitation Game refers to a paper that Turing wrote which, as far as I could tell, was a direct inspiration for the Voight-Kampff machine from Blade Runner (questions are asked to determine whether something is man or machine). Turing was a extraordinary mathematician, perhaps one of the greatest in history, and helped design/invent the machines (or "Turing machines") that would later become computers. He was the grandfather of the algorithm, and this all came about because he was drafted by the British Royal Navy to crack the Enigma code the Nazis used during WWII. He was arrogant, brash and unliked by most, but such a genius that at the end we have to recognize even oddballs have their place in this world.
In the film, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing with all of his quirks and speech impediments and nuances. Watching him take over this character completely is enchanting, he is absolutely sensational, delivering one of the finest performances all year. While completely unrelated in content, Cumberbatch has the kind of moments in this that Chiwetel Ejiofor had in 12 Years a Slave - where just one shot on his face while he talks or yells or thinks evokes such a touching reaction. I've admired Cumberbatch for years, but this is one of his best performances he'll ever give, and he deserves all the accolades soon coming his way.
In addition to Cumberbatch's legendary performance (and impressive turns by Mark Strong, Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode) the film itself is meticulously crafted, and is actually funnier than expected. Turing is a bit of a goofball, and sometimes his witty, snappy, arrogant remarks make for great comedy. Not in a disrespectful "let's laugh at him" kind of way, but instead in the "he really is smarter than everyone else and it's fun to see him react to others". It balances the levity and seriousness of Turing's story perfectly, with a great score to boot that enhances the experience even more. This is the kind of the film that makes your heart race as you're watching, not because of any intensity but because it's so gripping from start to finish.
Above all, the film speaks volumes about how our differences should not be made fun of, but embraced. Turing had trouble connecting with others and yet was still the man who had the genius to crack the code and save millions of lives. There's even a line that is repeated three times for emphasis regarding how it might be the ones we didn't imagine making a difference who then go on to imagine something incredible. Sure it may be screenwriter faux pas to repeat a cliche line like that over and over, but you know - it worked. It had an impact, and by the end when I heard it again, it gave me chills. We finally get to understand the depth of that line, and how it can inspire and change the world, which is a stellar compliment to the film.
Lastly, I must mention the score. I've loved composer Alexandre Desplat for a long time (interviewed him a few years ago), and nothing has ever topped Lust, Caution (one of his earlier scores from 2007). His score for The Imitation Game finally rivals that one, evoking an emotion that I only feel when I hear a score that tremendous. Everything about this film really hit the mark, with director Morten Tyldum going above and beyond simple storytelling, delivering a stunning film with performances that will have a lasting effect and could improve the way entire world (and history) thinks of Alan Turing. An astonishing achievement. Bravo.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing