Best Picture Profile: The Imitation Game

As we come closer to the Academy Awards on February 22nd, we’ll be posting short profiles of each Best Picture nominee, attempting, in our own ways, to not only sum up what the movie is about, but why we believe it scored one of the eight coveted nominations, and why it could possibly take home the big prize come Oscar night. Enjoy!

The Imitation Game, at the very least, is culturally relevant. Alan Turing was only recently pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013, and his achievements were, as promised, kept mostly secret for 50-odd years. So, yes, that answers the question of “why this movie now,” but this film, which found itself in the running for Best Picture this year, still leaves a lot unanswered and leaves plenty to be desired.

The film is easy to classify as British Oscar Bait, which has been done successfully in recent years (I still don’t think that The King’s Speech was the Best Picture of its year, but it was, without argument, a very good film), and this particular installment doesn’t exactly rise above its category. Directed by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (with his English-language debut), the film pulls a move I like to call the “Social Network Framing Device,” wherein someone (a man) explains his genius to an intellectually inferior interrogator years after the fact – and ultimately, thanks to the odd pacing and confusing timelines of the film, it really doesn’t work.

The film focuses on the life and times of Alan Turing, and attempts to adequately cover three different periods of his life – his difficult schoolboy days spent grappling with his sexuality; his historic code-breaking project during World War II; and his later, lonelier years, from his arrest to eventual chemical castration. Juggling these three things doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but the film handles these transition across time in the clumsiest way possible, only using year markers at the beginning of the film and then giving up on them alltogether. While the Enigma-breaking portion of the movie is pretty fun to watch, the rest is muddled and lackluster, particularly the handling of Turing’s chemical castration, which is blurted out in a two second sentence in the last six minutes of the movie once we get to the Big Important Issue that the rest of the movie utterly ignored (yes, we knew that Turing was gay throughout, but the civil-rights angle was thrown in as the hastiest of afterthoughts). Ultimately, the film suffers badly from a lack of focus, which lessens the effect of this otherwise fascinating story.

And, speaking of those last minutes, I’m about to go hugely against the grain here – Benedict Cumberbatch is an extremely talented actor, but up until that those few final minutes of the film, I found his performance to be as mechanical as his beloved Christopher. (The machine. Not the schoolkid with TB.) His Sherlock-schtick, while always a pleasure, began to wear thin over the course of the movie – though the performance was always precise, well-balanced and decently nuanced, I could see the cogs clicking, and I really didn’t want to. There have been stronger performances for sure this year, and Cumberbatch did his very best with a lacking script and seemingly scattered direction, but much like the film, it never came together for me. And, to give all the credit where credit’s due, those last minutes with Cumberbatch are truly gripping. With a better script, he would have been unstoppable.

This movie was clearly nominated because, honestly, old white dudes in the Academy go nuts for this kind of thing – a true story of a tortured genius working against the odds, with bonus points if he meets a sad end. Everything from the script to the music fits a very specific formula, and it shows, but do we necessarily need to see how the banger is made? (Get it? It’s sausage in British. I’m feeling clever.) It’s not going to win Best Picture this year, and it absolutely shouldn’t, but in my estimation, it suffers from the same setback that affects The Theory of Everything, its British biopic twin this year – when there’s too much ground to cover, stay specific, lest you lose your story.

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