Having received much validation from historians and those in-the-know, The Imitation Game is ultimately a waste of good source material.
Using a non-linear plot, it begins with Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) narrating his story before a police officer (Rory Kinnear), after his arrest for ‘indecency’. Over the next 114 minutes we learn about Turing’s childhood, his fascination with cryptography and work that led to the formation of Ultra.
The Imitation Game is something like a biopic, whilst non-linear, it does focus on every aspect of Turing: writer Graham Moore even tips his hat to Turing’s passion for distance running. Yet a thorough exploration of Alan Turing is hindered by strings of short scenes that try to express Turing’s genius by surrounding him with dunces or spends only brief moments with his childhood companion, Christopher, whilst telling continually how immensely important he was to Turing. Meanwhile Moore glosses over other issues like the science of cryptography or the politics of the war – the latter personified in cheap stock characters such as Charles Dance’s Commander Denniston.
Taking liberties over minor characters is forgivable usually and it would be in this film, if it weren’t horribly clichéd for the first hour. Joan Clarke, Keira Knightley’s character, is particularly boring, widening her eyes and saying oh are her only mannerisms and the turmoil Alan introduces to the relationship later on is again dealt with in seconds. Clarke is also an example of how The Imitation Game is often stylish and true to the past, but after The King’s Speech, Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy and half the shows on the BBC the niche for this is well worn. I could be wrong in suggesting that the producers wanted to make a selling point out of these glossy Brits in authentic dress though it isn’t the only part of this film that seems terribly top-down.
Suspense is lacking too as Moore and director Mortem Tyldum treats us as if we’re unsure Enigma was broken. Though the film does become quite fun around that eureka moment and the prior scene in the recreation hall at Bletchley Park is much tighter compared to earlier ones. Yet Tyldum lacks inventiveness throughout – though perfectly competent, his largest directing asset is his easy access to World War Two stock footage.
Cumberbatch is deserving of the praise he has received. He has been slightly typecast but in no way rest on his laurels and is especially good in emotive scenes towards the end.
Of course the film ends on Turing’s chemical castration, one of the many worthy topics the film raises, Joan Clarke is another of these. I actually don’t think this is a bad film but it is so inefficient with its source material – material so good a screenplay need not be very inventive. But there are too many scenes where nothing really happens, far too many platitudes and good actors who are given little to do – The Imitation Game would have to be twice its length to teach anyone anything new about Alan Turing.