Secrets have a price. And that is the main idea behind The Imitation Game.
The story revolves around the anti-social math genius Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is recruited by the British military to try and break the unbreakable Nazi Enigma code. The story begins years after the war when Turing suffers a burglary and the police inspector believes that he is hiding something. The story then jumps back and forth in time from after the break in to his work in the war.
Turring works his way into leading the code-breaking group. But his cold, prickly demeanor gains him the ire of his coworkers. It is only the irascible Joan Clarke (Keira Knightly) who breaks through his gruff exterior and reaches him. Turing's problem is that he is genius who has trouble communicating his genius. His solution to breaking the Nazi code is to create a machine that can break all the codes. One of the things that the movie does incredibly well is making his idea sound insane. It doesn't follow the easy path of making his colleagues seem like closed-minded idiots. Turing comes off as an impractical egg-head. This makes the tension so much better.
But the main problem of the story are secrets. Turing hides a big secret. This is not good because the secret nature of his work makes this incredibly suspicious. The giving away of secrets can be your undoing in Turing's world. But holding in the secrets causes everyone, especially Turing incredibly deep pain.
Those who know history know what Turing's secret is. And the movie reveals it halfway through, so as not to draw it out too much. But in the world of espionage, the paranoia mounts. And the deeper we go, the more fascinating the movie becomes.
Cumberbatch is, as always, fantastic. His Turing is not someone who is cold. He is someone who is hurt and has erected an emotional wall. When those dams break, it is powerful. But I feel like this character is just another variant on his famous Sherlock persona. I would like to see him play something completely against type. That doesn't detract from the power of his performance, it is just a personal preference.
The rest of the supporting cast is also excellent. Knightly gives one of her best performances, even though, like my note about Cumberbatch, I would have liked something a bit out of her normal range. I am very happy that Charles Dance is getting a lot more work nowadays. He plays the main interior adversary to Turing, Commander Denniston. I have liked him as an actor for a long time and I'm glad people are recognizing his talent. Mark Strong also does an excellent job as a mysterious MI6 agent.
But make no mistake, this is Cumberbatch's movie and he runs with the material as best he can.
Director Morten Tyldum does a excellent job of pacing the story and adding layers of secrets along with unexpected twists.
For the rest of the review, I will discuss a few elements of the movie that might be considered spoilers so be warned: SPOILERS AHEAD.
Turing's big secret is that he is a closeted homosexual. During this time in history, homosexual acts were illegal. This secret causes Turning to feel cut off from his colleagues, as revealing his orientation would be dangerous. It becomes even more complicated as Joan falls in love with him. He cares for her and proposes to her in order to get her to stay in his life. The movie does an excellent job of conveying the emotional textures and pains involved in this complicated relationship.
The movie ends with a text epilogue that focus on the injustices of the anti-homosexual laws of the past. And yet, I think the movie inadvertently says something true about marriage. Towards the end of the movie, Turing confesses his deception to Joan. However, Joan still wants to marry him. She says that they will have a marriage of the mind and that their romantic side will simply be left out. Turing still spurns her. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I took this to be because he understood that she could never be happy this way. While they had affection, friendship, and deep love for each other, there was no eros (romance). But eros is an essential component of marriage. We are bodily beings and marriage is not just a spiritual connection, like friendship. It is a bodily one. I don't think that the filmmakers were out to make this very Catholic point, because the conclusion from that eventually leads to natural man-woman marriage.
The Imitation Game is a fascinating movie that looks at a very important part of history and the horrible secrets that saved and destroyed lives.
4 out of 5 stars.