30 Dec 2014

[Review] - The Imitation Game

Courtesy of Black Bear Pictures
Thank gods for Hitler.

Wait, wait, I didn't mean it that way. I meant, thank gods that we have so convenient a personification of evil as Hitler, that we have been able to spend most of a century (and will likely continue for some time) reliving with absolute satisfaction the act of defeating him. And because it is such a universal and easily acquired feeling, it does start to feel a bit cheap after a while. As though, because we know we're going to give Adolf what for at the end, the real work doesn't have to be put in up to that point.

The treatment of Alan Turing after the war is a national embarrassment, the product of a time that cannot be excused by simply saying "that was the way things happened back then." That an entire film has been dedicated to him is a great achievement, as now millions more people know who we was, what he did, and what road he set us on. However, given the choice between telling his whole story, his war story, or his post war story, The Imitation Game settled on kind of all three at once but not one in particular, with the usual liberties that are usually taken in both historical and biographical films. One than has to watch The Imitation Game, and gauge for themselves whether truth is more important than accuracy, as well as how much is actually true or accurate.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that don't know what jokes are.

Perhaps the two biggest and most notable flaws of this film, the historical matters aside, are the most obvious and the most insulting. First, the film is utterly uninterested in developing any of the characters aside from Turing, and he isn't "developed" at all, he's just the focus. Other characters revolve around him, but warrant less and less of our attention. There is a "core" cast of six characters throughout the majority of the film, and I'm only able to recall two or three of their names, one of which is Alan. Because it is Alan's story, Alan is the only character worth backstory, or a more complex emotional state. The rest are cookie-cutter characters, imbued with a single opinion, a single attitude and a single purpose in the film (if they are really, very fortunate, they might get two). And that purpose is entirely "be an obstacle for Alan to overcome." Take, for instance, Charles Dance, who is wonderful in the scenes he's in, but is essentially playing Tywin Lannister in a Royal Navy uniform, and without the complexity. He is gruff and adversarial towards Alan, and completely disappears once Alan starts producing results.

The only character to get anywhere near as much attention as Alan is Joan Clarke, played by Keira Knightley. The best thing to come out of this film is a sizzle reel for studios to consider future projects between her and Cumberbatch, because they did have fantastic chemistry together. The problem with her role here is, the script use her presence and her historical role in Alan's life to downplay the fact that he was gay, and give the film a more "traditional" romance. When I say traditional, I of course mean gender-wise. I was satisfying that it was much more of an intellectual romance, but that doesn't change the fact that they were more interested in telling a man-woman story rather than the more important and ultimately more relevant story of his true sexuality. They do save themselves somewhat by seeding the film with flashbacks to his school-boy days, and his first love, but these are few and far between, and mostly used in the most transparently emotionally manipulative way. Time is a circle, you see, and when the Alan of 1940 is feeling good, the Alan of 1928 is feeling good. And when the Alan of 1950 is feeling bad, the Alan of 1928 is feeling bad.

The film does jump between three time periods, 1928, the War, and a framing device set in 1950, which sees Rory Kinnear investigating Turing, for what would ultimately be a charge of indecency due to his homosexuality, and would eventually lead to his suicide. The stuff from the twenties, as I've said, was pure manipulation as much as it was elaboration. The framing device was also manipulative. It was a desperate attempt to give what happened to Turing, a reprehensible turn of events all to common for the time, a silver lining. To have the almost certainly fictional Hock be an ally, and make the British legal system look less repulsively obscene. If one man understood what Turing did for King and Country, than it doesn't matter what he is, which is a positive sentiment. I know it likely wasn't structured to also appear as an excuse for what was done to Turing, that if one man on the inside believed that it didn't matter which gender Turing preferred, maybe that makes it better, but that's how it came off seeming. If they had stuck with using the interrogation in the fifties as a way of directing the narrative through the forties, than maybe it wouldn't have felt quiet so manipulative, and thus less valuable.

Cumberbatch does turn in a full-stop performance; critics who say he's a one note actor who is only riding a wave of popularity rather than deserved respect are clearly paying attention to the wrong actor. Yes, he occasionally fall short of real subtly that allows his performances to become "inhabited," but that doesn't mean he's any less engaging or impressive. The problem with his Turing is the script's version of Turing. He's a asshole, he's clearly got some form of Autism, and he is unable to communicate his genius with all the lower lifeforms around him. It's sad that the House Affect has taken such a strangle hold over modern interpretation, that we cannot see genius as anything other than combative. Genius must be misunderstood, must be isolated, must be constantly challenged in order to demonstrate it's quality. They must be exactly the opposite of the sort of person you'd like to have a drink with, and that lonerism is what drives their work. Which is absolute rubbish. It's hogswallow. It's insulting and narrow-minded and makes for less interesting depictions of great minds, real or fictional. It wasn't enough that Turing was gay, and a genius, and fighting a unique battle during wartime, he also had to be an utter prick for us to sympathize with him. And that his prickishness is the character-point that the film really latches onto, to develop and motivate?

All that being said, it is a good film. It moves through events with a briskness that is all too common for these sorts of films, cherry picking through a collection of historical events and lining up the really good ones. But it is engaging all the way through, and even the actors who have little to do and less interesting actors to do it with turn in good performances. It is also a surprisingly funny movie, comedy being something that Cumberbatch is unequivocally adept at (his scenes with Dance are especially electric with laughs). That it exists in imperfect form is fine by me, as it gets the gist of Turing's life and accomplishments out into the broader public consciousness. It isn't right to say that without hi, England wouldn't have won the war, or we wouldn't have computers, or so one. But it is right to say that without him, we wouldn't have those things in the way we have them, and that more people don't know his name is a historical shame. If this film fixes that a little bit, I can put up with the rest of it.

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