In the eyes of his "Cumberbitches" online, Benedict Cumberbatch is a hero. In The Imitation Game, he cracks the code of his hype and fandom, and finally gets to play one.
How? It's elementary. As WWII codebreaker Alan Turing, Cumberbatch is a mathematical genius who also happens to be a pompous, socially awkward outcast. Turing takes the lead after the British government enlists six math and chess masters to decipher the seemingly-unbreakable German communication system, Enigma, as soon as possible to prevent pending attacks. His alienation of his colleagues only added to the difficulty of this mission impossible, since the code had nearly 159 million different configurations and changed every 24 hours.
Luckily for Turing, he finds help (but not love), in an unexpected place. In comes Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a gifted cryptographer in her own right, who joins his troupe of masterminds. In spite of their brief engagement, Turing and Clarke work together to overcome his lack of social graces and win the respect of the team. Soon, he creates a room-sized pre-computer dubbed Christopher which he insists will lead the allies to victory. It does, but only after a series of government intimidation tactics, sabotage fears and a lot secrets. Nobody, not even the MI6, can know what they've uncovered until they can guarantee the safety of the code's contents. The film hammers home the point that without this invention of Turing's, the war would have lasted for at least two more years. Similarly, it identifies that Turing's machines and theories transformed into what we now know as computers.
But, for all of his genius, Turing's biggest struggle comes with hiding his true sexuality from himself and the government. His emotional turmoil is muted and despair kept under wraps. Yet, the real puzzle of the film is its near-universal acclaim.
I realize I'm in the minority here, but my lack of interest is nothing compared to Elaine's seething hatred for The English Patient.
The movie is fine, but nothing special. Cumberbatch plays an aloof intellect well on Sherlock, even netting himself an Emmy last month, but his performance as Turing is not much different. The Imitation Game is crammed with information, and moves at a pace so audiences can follow along, but there's no room for surprise. Any of the suspense is quickly silenced and even when Turing is faced with the threat of losing his research, or access to Christopher, he still manages to carry on without much pantomimed difficulty. It plays like a slowly-deflating balloon, with minimal incentive to root for Turing and his band of hyper-intellectual misfits.
Cumberbatch may deserve awards attention, but it's Knightley whose performance as the spunky, feminine outlier truly stands out, despite only supporting screen-time and lines like, "I'm a woman in a man's job."
Don't double down on this as the Oscar frontrunner just yet. The Imitation Game is more or less a clone of something we've seen before, like The King's Speech, without the heart or royal intrigue. Like Speech before it, The Weinstein Company may be looking for another win here, but they're going to have to work even harder to spell out a win.