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For Your Consideration: 'The Imitation Game'

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The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum
My brother, whose work is focused mostly on computers, favors a T-shirt that reads, "I failed the Turing Test." This T-shirt used to be a sort of inside joke, but more and more people are coming to know the story of Alan Turing, widely recognized as the father of artificial intelligence. The risk of popularity is that details and nuance are lost, and that is most of what one comes away with in the new Turing biopic, The Imitation Game, by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum. (As for just how badly the movie gets the facts wrong, I leave that to those more versed in the details, but it ranges from distortion to outright fabrication.) The screenplay, by newcomer Graham Moore, is based on Alan Turing: The Enigma, a book by Andrew Hodges, which was also the main source for Breaking the Code, a movie made for the BBC starring Derek Jacobi. It focuses largely on Turing's involvement with the Allied effort to break the Nazi Enigma code, in a top-secret operation at Bletchley Park during World War II.

In other words, the film is shameless Oscar-bait, and the fact that at the end of his life Turing ran afoul of the United Kingdom's draconian anti-homosexuality laws does not hurt as a hook for the politically minded members of the Academy. Since it is not good enough to win Best Picture, or at least it shouldn't, it could propel Benedict Cumberbatch a little closer to a shot at Best Actor, again without good reason. Since the BBC's Sherlock and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, when he first came to my attention, Cumberbatch has been in everything under the sun, including doing voice-overs for The Hobbit. He is a talented actor, but this is not his best work, relying on nervous tics, stereotypical more than individual, to give the appearance of idiosyncrasy, without the distinctive mania of his Sherlock Holmes, for example.

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In fact, none of the performances are all that memorable, which is partly due to the screenplay, which simplifies most of the characters down to stereotypes. Keira Knightley is more controlled than in her over-the-top turn in A Dangerous Method, and Matthew Goode (Death Comes to Pemberley) is a handsome Hugh Alexander, the leader of the Enigma team. Allen Leech (Downton Abbey) and Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) round out the top-secret project, led by Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) as the growling military commander who oversees it. One of the more beautifully handled subplots is in glimpses back to Turing's public school days, where the young Turing (Alex Lawther, who also played the young Britten in Benjamin Britten: Peace and Conflict) suffers horrific bullying and falls in love with another student (Jack Bannon). For all of its inaccuracies, the movie does an admirable job keeping its somewhat jagged narrative line, split between the childhood, Bletchley Park, and post-war phases of Turing's life, clear for the viewer.

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