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It’s impossible not to respect Alan Turing; in his tragically short lifetime he achieved more than most could in a thousand. Without his work I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this review out on a laptop. But despite how incredible his achievements were they don’t translate particularly well to the silver screen, with The Imitation Game feeling more like a showcase of Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting ability than a genuinely compelling film.
The central narrative is interesting enough following Alan Turing’s attempts to crack the enigma code, a Nazi encryption used to disguise all their radio broadcasts. Within the first twenty minutes the main players have been introduced and the game has been set up.
So it’s surprising that all the momentum built in the early stages runs out so quickly as the film becomes increasingly slow. Screenwriter Graham Moore does an admirable job but the truth is watching a group of mathematicians try to solve a hugely complex code just doesn’t make for the most enthralling viewing. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its moments, but enjoyment of The Imitation Game comes from an interest in Turing’s work rather than an engaging experience.
Like most biopic films, The Imitation Game focuses on several different time periods in Alan Turing’s life; the lion’s share of the film takes place during World War II but we also see him in his final years and as a young boy at school. It’s these school boy days that feel the most out of place; their reason for being included is obvious but they feel unnecessary and frankly rather dull. Which doesn’t help with the pacing issues the movie already has…
There’s a struggle for focus at the heart of The Imitation Game between Turing’s work developing what would form the basis for the modern day computer and his sexuality. These two plot threads aren’t interwoven well, instead feeling like separate entities that are switched between when one runs out of steam. This focus on two different aspects means that neither gets the attention it deserves, and both come off worse.
Benedict Cumberbatch, an actor I’ve always found to be hugely overrated, shines in a lead role worthy of all the nominations he’s sure to land come awards season. Alan Turing is an endlessly fascinating man, and the film’s best moments all stem from him. Watching him interact with people particularly in an early scene featuring Charles Dance is hysterical. His relationship with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) is also explored; these scenes try to give the proceedings some heart and are moderately successful.
Keira Knightley isn’t given a great deal to work with and at times Joan Clarke seems to be overshadowed by the men in her life. Which is a shame because early on the film makes a point of displaying that she is cleverer that most of them, but this is quickly abandoned so she can have picnics and be spoken down to by every male character.
The final third is easily the strongest, which is a shame because the middle is so drab that some audience members may have switched off by that point. The film’s slow build up finally has some pay off, with a strangely haunting final scene.
The Imitation Game will be remembered for Benedict Cumberbatch’s show-stealing performance, but not much else. It’s watchable, but far too often it strays into unenjoyable territory as the audience is subjected to what feels like endless scenes of almost worthlessness. Alan Turing is a fascinating figure but this movie about his life isn’t quite as interesting.