Alan Turing, the protagonist of the fact-based The Imitation Game, was a 27-year-old mathematician prodigy from Cambridge who was secretly recruited by the British government to join a group of agents trying to break the Nazis’ seemingly uncrackable Enigma code. The agents were recruited via a crossword puzzle. Anyone who could solve it in under a minute was invited to apply for a spot on the team. Turing made short work of the crossword, but his odd-duck demeanor and temperamental, condescending nature got him fired pretty quickly by his superior (Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance, channeling a less savage Tywin Lannister here).
So Turing went behind his back and got his post back by writing to Winston Churchill. He was also entrusted with 100,000 pounds to build a machine that could break Enigma (the Germans would change the code every day at 6 a.m., so the British had only a few hours to crack it each day before having to start all over again).
This may all sound a bit dry and dusty, but director Moren Tyldum made the wise decision to focus on Turing instead of history. As played by Benedict Cumberbatch in his finest performance to date, Turing was arrogant yet charismatic, imperious yet almost always correct. When a brilliant female scientist (Keira Knightley) joins the group, Turing’s demeanor softens, and they become close friends bound by their higher-than-normal intelligence. But Turing has a secret — which the audience has been made privy to — that makes him the subject of blackmail and, eventually, worse.
Unlike The King’s Speech, which won a clutch of Oscars for its dull propriety and Masterpiece Theater vibe, The Imitation Game is vibrant and lively, engaging you on three levels: The fascinating way the Nazis managed to outwit the rest of the world until Turing came along, how his giant contraption (essentially the world’s first computer) will work, and what will happen to him and everyone he knows when the truth about him is finally revealed.
The repercussions are enormous.
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong.
Director: Morten Tyldum.
Screenwriter: Graham Moore. Based on the novel by Andrew Hodges.
A Weinstein Co. release. Running time: 114 minutes. Vulgar language, strong adult themes. Playing at area theaters.