Friday, January 9, 2015

Review: "The Imitation Game"

I wanted to like this. I wanted to sing its praises, but here's the thing: it has some major problems.

The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, suffers from the same issue that has plagued many of the more recently "acclaimed" cinematic outings. It won the audience choice award at TIFF, but having seen it my sneaking suspicion is that it may have won due primarily to the strength of performance and popularity of it star. There are good things in this movie, I don't want to pretend it wasn't well-made, but there are more problems than I can comfortably overlook.

Keira Knightley, while often not my cup of tea, actually does a good job here.  Her portrayal of Joanna is both subtle and effective for the role she's meant to play within the plot. Here the filmmakers have chosen to use secondary characters primarily to drive the story of Alan Turing (played by Cumberbatch) forward, rather than to flesh out the history itself.  That's fine, but I think they do them a disservice service in that they could have easily been a far more interesting aspect of the story. Instead, relationships with other members of his team are--in some cases--entirely fabricated in attempts to show the challenge of his brilliance. It is at its heart a character study, but in service of HIS character, other aspects of the film suffer.  With a less experienced cast this could have been a disaster.

While I'm not one to get caught up on historical accuracy--most films don't pay much attention to history and those that do tend to get stuck--I do think that they've taken a lot of unnecessary liberties here. As the guardian UK has pointed out, they couldn't even be bothered to get the year that Turing was arrested correct (among other more egregious errors). This shows a general lack of respect for the original source material, in fact Andrew Hodges, the author of the book on which the film is based (Alan Turing: The Enigma), has expressed incredulity at some of the changes.  Generally the changes seem to serve no specific purpose, though in the case of the entirely fabricated policeman in the "present" who is more interested in Alan's war history than his homosexuality, I will forgive them.  Had it been done sparingly and with good purpose I could have dealt with it but when virtually nothing of the original history (save the names of some characters and the fact that they were somehow involved in Bletchly) is there we must simply look at this as a good bit of fantasy.  And it's a decent bit of revisionist fantasy.

Setting aside the historical inaccuracies and the fabricated relationships between team members, the performances put in by the cast are quite good.  In the case of Cumberbatch, I'd say exceptional.  And it wasn't until the last third of the film that it lost me.  A narrative framing technique that I mentioned earlier-- that of an interrogation by an officer during Turing's arrest in 1952--is used to drive the story forward.  The technique itself works well until the final section of the film, which switches gears in an attempt to condemn the British government's treatment of homosexuality.  It's a fine conclusion (one I support), but it belongs to a different film.  The way it's played feels like we've skipped to the end of an entirely different movie.  While it's mentioned and implied throughout the film that Alan must hide, no character actually reacts negatively to his homosexuality until he's arrested later in the film.  For me it felt like we should have been shown the danger and judgement throughout to make clear the suffering and threat under which Alan was living.  As it is, anyone he comes into contact with is either ignorant of or unmoved by his sexuality, making the extreme reaction of the policement in the "present" seem overplayed.  Unfortunately it ends up undermining the sadness and mistreatment of this man and made Cumberbatch's final scene incongruous for me.

The Imitation Game is a well made fantasy of how the war was won and an interesting way to spend a few hours.  It has a great cast and solid performances, even if the script is a bit clunky.

My rating: 3 out of 4

No comments:

Post a Comment