[Screen It]


(2014) (Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley) (PG-13)

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Drama: A socially awkward but brilliant mathematician leads a team trying to break the German enigma code during WWII.
It's 1951 and Alan Turing (BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH) is a British man under the watchful eye of Inspector Nock (RORY KINNEAR). He's suspicious that Alan doesn't seem to have any discoverable past, something that has the detective wonder if he might be a Soviet spy. To deal with that and after being brought in for questioning, Alan tells his tale that goes back to 1939 when he is a brilliant but socially awkward British mathematician who applies to work for Commander Denniston (CHARLES DANCE) in hopes of breaking Germany's seemingly impenetrable Enigma code.

A team is finally assembled for that task, with Hugh Alexander (MATTHEW GOODE) leading the effort, much to the consternation of Alan who'd rather work alone anyway. A letter to Winston Churchill results in Alan being put in charge and the firing of two team members he views as useless. He eventually forms his final team that includes Hugh, along with Joan Clarke (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY), John Cairncross (ALLEN LEECH) and Peter Hilton (MATTHEW BEARD), all under the eye of MI6 official Stewart Menzies (MARK STRONG). As Alan continues telling his tale, we also see flashbacks to Young Alan (ALEX LAWTHER) and his interaction with classmate Christopher Morcom (JACK BANNON) with whom he becomes close, a relationship that would mold his later behavior.

With the enigma machine possessing 158 quintillion different combinations, and the code changing each day, Alan and his team race against time to break the code and hopefully shorten WWII, something Alan believes his prototype computer will help accomplish.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
I have no idea if it's one-hundred percent accurate, but a common thing you occasionally hear tech pundits state is that there's more computing horsepower in your contemporary smart phone than was used in the entirety of putting man on the moon. Makes you think twice about playing Words With Friends, Angry Birds or what have you, now doesn't it?

I can say that I've seen an "ancient" Eniac computer in the Smithsonian and its enormous mass (it takes up an entire room) was devoted to simple math equations. Yes, it was essentially a giant calculator, still a bit too big to earn the "pocket" moniker, and it came to life, so to speak, not long after the conclusion of WWII.

Aside from its museum display, it's mostly unknown to -- I'd guess -- ninety-nine percent of the world today, much as are the names of those who worked on it, as well as those who toiled away on such machines even earlier than that. For instance, while the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates bring up instant images of the two computer icons and the products they created, if one talks about Alan Turing, most everyone won't be able to conjure a mental image of the man, let alone comment on his work.

Winston Churchill did, stating that Turing made the single biggest contribution to the Allies defeating the Nazis in WWII. Turing's tale now comes to life in "The Imitation Game," a biopic that might look like standard Oscar bait on paper, but is so exquisitely cast, written and directed that it ends up being the best film of 2014. Expect lots of Oscar nominations across the board for this winning movie that's part grand entertainment, part nail biter, and part social commentary on how the man ended up being treated -- despite his accomplishments -- simply due to his sexual orientation.

The films starts in 1951 when Turing (an absolutely terrific and sympathetic Benedict Cumberbatch) asks his interrogator -- and thus the viewer -- if they're listening carefully to the tale he's about to tell. He says one must listen well or else they'll miss important things, and adds not to judge him until you've heard the entire story. We then see that Turing's place has been broken into, and the inspector on the case (Rory Kinnear) becomes suspicious that the professor is hiding something.

The film then rewinds to 1939 when Germany is at war with England and Turing, a 27-year-old mathematician, arrives at a radio manufacturing plant that's really serving as Britain's secret facility that's desirous of breaking the German enigma code. Turing states he likes solving problems and enigma is the greatest the world has created (what with its 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 code combinations).

He convinces various officials (Mark Strong and Charles Dance) that he's the right man for the job, even if his strategy and lack of interpersonal skills results in him butting heads with the team's initial leader (Matthew Goode). He eventually brings on others (including the lone woman, nicely played by the always intriguing Keira Knightley) to help on the quest.

While that main plot thrust is occurring, director Morten Tyldum -- who works from Graham Moore's adaptation of Andrew Hodges' book "Alan Turing: The Enigma" -- jumps back and forth between those two initial times, as well as when Turing was a young student (played by Alex Lawther), bullied by others for being "an odd duck," and forming the beginnings of more than just a friendship with another student (Jack Bannon), for whom he names his first computing machine.

With great performances across the board, terrific dialogue from Moore, beautiful cinematography courtesy of Oscar Faura, a splendid score by Alexandre Desplat, and Tyldum bringing all of that and more together into a highly engaging whole -- the film is a winning offering pretty much anyway one looks at it.

It's also a strong statement about dealing with various forms of bullying that show up from time to time in one's life (the last stage here is heartbreaking), making hard choices in life, and -- more significantly -- celebrating intelligence in various forms, especially in ultimately defeating an insidious human scourge.

When I first saw the film several months ago, I proclaimed it to be the best picture of 2014. Having just re-watched it after seeing the rest of the contenders, I stand by my assessment. "The Imitation Game" rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed September 18, 2014 / Posted December 12, 2014

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