Friday, January 16, 2015

THE IMITATION GAME

The "Turing Test" posits that the answers to a small amount of questions would suffice to identify whether they were answered by a human being or by an artificial intelligence passing itself off as human. The irony seems to be that Alan Turing himself, one of 20th century Britain's most dazzling scientific minds, actually had to pass himself off as a "normal person" to fit within the strictly regimented British society of its time.

     And yet, without his jagged, almost autistic obsessions, it's highly likely that WWII would have gone wrong for the Allies; after having alienated pretty much everyone in the Bletchley Park cryptography unit of the British Army, it was Turing's out-of-the-box thinking that allowed the ultimate breakthrough in decoding German military cyphers. And without that incredible true story that the British government kept under wraps for half a century, Norwegian hand-for-hire Morten Tyldum would not have made The Imitation Game pass itself off as the war thriller it so clearly is not.

     Instead, what's told in this quasi-biopic of Alan Turing (a stellar Benedict Cumberbatch) is the tale of a "stranger in a strange land", to quote from Robert Heinlein; an "odd man out" whose wartime experiences taught him, for better or for worse, how to get by in a society totally uninterested in the concept of difference. And even though Turing was gay, and the chemical castration he was sentenced to for "indecent exposure" in a society that outlawed homosexuality played a part in his 1954 suicide, being gay is not the key at the heart of his singularity.

     Graham Moore's script, Mr. Cumberbatch's performance and Mr. Tyldum's handling combine to underline that the mathematician was a fish out of water, whose combination of guileless eccentricity and ruthless intelligence made him an odd duck in a post-imperial Britain so worried with "property" and "decency". No wonder that The Imitation Game suggests the person closest to him to be Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a co-worker and a first-rate mind that patriarchal Britain wants to condemn to being a prim young woman meant for marriage and homemaking, but who chafes at it and is inspired by Turing's bloody-mindedness to push back against that.

     Mr. Cumberbatch is exquisite as Turing, in a perfectly modulated and highly subtle composition where you can always see both the mental gears working behind the eyes and the uncertainty that comes from holding secrets. But this would mean nothing without Mr. Moore's scripting, which takes liberties with actual events to better underline the concept of "imitation" running through it, and Mr. Tyldum's no-nonsense decision to shoot the tale in classic, understated British period drama mode (though this is technically an American production).

     This allows the trappings of the war thriller to be suffused with the casual oddity of an angular alien struggling to survive in a strange, hostile planet, while not making it a masterpiece; just a better-than-average mainstream movie that throws a small wooden stick into a massive set of gears and ever so slightly changes its mechanism.

THE IMITATION GAME
USA 2014
114 minutes
Cast Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong
Director Morten Tyldum; screenwriter Graham Moore; based on the book Alan Turing - The Enigma by Andrew Hodges; cinematographer Óscar Faura (colour, widescreen); composer Alexandre Desplat; designer Maria Djurkovic; costumes Sammy Sheldon Differ; editor William Goldenberg; producers Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman; production companies Black Bear Pictures and Bristol Automotive Productions in association with Filmnation Entertainment
Screened January 7th 2015, NOS Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


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