The Imitation Game Review: It’s Such a Biopic

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The Imitation Game starts with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing narrating asking us “Are you paying attention?” He goes on to say that every detail is worth noting. With this kind of pretension, there better be a lot worth paying attention to. Sadly, there isn’t.

If you’ve seen roughly five other biographical films in your lifetime, The Imitation Game has nothing cinematically new to offer you. The story of Alan Turing is an interesting one. He’s a man crippled by both his cold and aloof manner of dealing with people and his then illegal homosexuality.

Turing was a mathematician in the 1940s assigned to crack the Nazi Enigma code to help the British defeat the Germans in World War II. He takes a liking to Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a brilliant mind oppressed because she’s a woman. Their platonic relationship is a more interesting part of the film, but the script never drives it home to make us truly understand their deep connection. It’s a lot of telling versus showing.

As the war grows worse, Turing and his team face obstacle after obstacle trying to crack the Nazi code. But this is one of three stories The Imitation Game is trying to tell at once. The other two center on his homosexuality. For one of them we go back to Turing’s days at school, where he fell in love with a boy. This serves the central WWII plot because it gives us a better understanding of how this genius developed the prickly personality his coworkers are forced to face off with.

The other is about Turing’s eventual arrest for indecency after the war, which has very little to do with his prior accomplishments. It’s a common pitfall of biopics to show more of the subject’s life than is narratively necessary. The Imitation Games seriously suffers from this, director Morten Tyldum seemingly biting off more than he can chew.

Helping save the film is Cumberbatch’s committed performance. He’s a great actor finally getting the types of roles he deserves. There’s nothing to complain about there.

But even so, this multi-faceted portrayal of Turing just tried to do too much, crumbling under its own weight at the end, when it’s most important not to. There are a lot of great things about The Imitation Game, but there’s too much other stuff keeping it from being a great film. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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