Daily | Telluride + Toronto 2014 | Morten Tyldum’s THE IMITATION GAME

'The Imitation Game'

‘The Imitation Game’

It’s premiered at Tellride, it’ll be a Special Presentation in Toronto, it’ll open the London Film Festival, and we begin with Variety‘s Scott Foundas: “Nothing is too heavily encrypted in The Imitation Game, a veddy British biopic of prodigal mathematician and WWII codebreaker Alan Turing, rendered in such unerringly tasteful, Masterpiece Theatre-ish fashion that every one of Turing’s professional triumphs and personal tragedies arrives right on schedule and with nary a hair out of place. More than once during the accomplished (but not particularly distinctive) English-language debut for Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters), you can catch the ghost of the late Richard Attenborough nodding approvingly over the decorous proceedings. And yet so innately compelling is Turing’s story—to say nothing of Benedict Cumberbatch’s masterful performance—it’s hard not to get caught up in this well-told tale and its skillful manipulations.”

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy: “Engrossing, nicely textured and sadly tragic, The Imitation Game is overly reluctant to dive into the nitty gritty of how the man who’s often called the father of artificial intelligence accomplished what he did, while the matter of his eventual arrest for homosexuality provides a potent and topical framing device…. With the blitz battering London and the Nazis taking control of Europe, the British government engages six math and chess whizzes to try to crack the Germans’ code, perceived as unbreakable, by which the enemy’s naval forces receive new instructions on a daily basis. As analyzed by the experts, Enigma has 159 million million million possible configurations, meaning it would take decades to decipher it by conventional methods.”

“First-time feature-film screenwriter Graham Moore, adapting Andrew Hodges’s book, has to balance a war story spread across continents with the more intimate fights, feuds and failures of the group that was trying to crack Enigma,” writes James Rocchi at “He does, with a clean clarity that’s welcome, whether explaining personal lives or the complex technical exposition required to make audiences understand and appreciate the task Turing and his group faced. Turing invented, designed and built a specific highly specialized machine to break Enigma, but you may know that machine by a different name: The computer.”

“Cumberbatch handles… tired conventions with aplomb, sliding effortlessly into a role that practically demands to be overacted,” writes Michael Nordine for Indiewire. “It’s a reserved, almost conservative performance, and in holding so much back so much of the time, Cumberbatch makes his few outward displays of emotion far more impactful.”

“Co-starring Mark Strong, Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Alan Leech (Downton Abbey) and Rory Kinnear, this supporting cast is dependable, but their characters often feed into archetype banalities,” writes Rodrigo Perez at the Playlist. “One repeated phrase regarding the power of imagination feels as if it were ripped from the Weinstein Company feel-good Oscar-generator and possibly appropriated from Finding Neverland.”

Turing “was a hero the Western world didn’t know about for decades and in many ways the circumstances of his death and the secrecy of his personal life made him as much of an enigma as the code he broke,” writes Gregory Ellwood at HitFix. “It’s therefore disappointing that… The Imitation Game fails to do his life justice.”

Update, 9/4: Glenn Sumi profiles Cumberbatch for Now Toronto.

Update, 9/5: “Audiences at [Telluride] ate it up,” notes Jim Hemphill at Filmmaker, “but it isn’t much of a movie; rather, it’s a plea for tolerance, which places the viewer who doesn’t respond to it in the position of being a jerk, since who wants to be the guy against tolerance? Of course, my argument is that I’m not against tolerance, I’m just against dull Oscar bait like this taking a slot that could have gone to a more interesting film.”

Updates, 9/9: “It’s not that Alan Turing’s life isn’t teeming with interest or cinematic possibilities,” writes the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey. “Somehow, though, this diligent mid-century biopic, with its cookie-cutter screenwriting and lacquered, nominate-me-for-everything sheen, manages to feel like a series of stories we’ve heard before, following the familiar contours of other films as if with tracing paper.”

“When Keira Knightley shows up and is mistaken for a secretary, you don’t have to be a whiz to guess she’ll not only ace the test but do so miles faster than her male counterparts,” writes Catherine Shoard in the Guardian. “Much about The Imitation Game—cast, subject matter, parquet flooring—appears to mimic the 2011 film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with which it also shares Working Title roots and a director making their English language debut (in that case, Tomas Alfredson, in this, Morten Tyldum). But it’s not as chilly or convincing, doesn’t burn with the same intellectual intensity as that film, nor of, say, The Social Network, whose template it apes.”

But for‘s Erik Davis, “The Imitation Game is a surprisingly brainy war picture.”

Update, 9/12: A B- from the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, a bit more from Linda Holmes at NPR and Nigel M. Smith talks with Knightley for Indiewire.

Updates, 9/14: “Like most historical biopics, The Imitation Game consistently aims for the lowest common prestige denominator,” writes Mike D’Angelo for the Dissolve. The codebreaking sequences “are enormously simplified from what actually happened and rousing for precisely that reason.”

As Jennie Punter reports for Variety, The Imitation Game has won this year’s Grolsch People’s Choice Award.

Update, 10/9: “Even the most cynical will feel some joy at the sudden breakthrough discoveries, or even tear up as Turing is persecuted for his homosexuality,” writes Martin Jensen at the Film Stage. “However, what limits the film to effective feel-good weepie, rather than the great work it could have been, is that it never challenges the audience’s conscience.”

Update, 10/11: “A period piece, a message and a much-loved star: such is the essence of modern big-league British film, even when directed by a Norwegian (Morten Tyldum) and financed by Harvey Weinstein.” Danny Leigh for the Financial Times: “Many, though, will be troubled by this version of Turing as a semi-comic super-nerd who might feasibly cameo on The Big Bang Theory. Connections are made in primary colours between a gift for code-breaking and a failure to crack the puzzle of other people—and from his fantabulous contraption to the computer on which you may be reading this. We leave shaking our heads at the sins of past generations but, British as we are, what stays with us is mostly how much we like Benedict Cumberbatch.”

Update, 10/27: “At best,” writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant, “Morten Tyldum’s biopic attests to the ferocity with which Turing applied himself to his work, and how his perseverance was instrumental in the development of the electromechanical device that cracked the German Enigma machine and, as a result, shortened the war by as much as two years, thus saving millions of lives. At worst, it approaches Turing’s homosexuality not so much with kid gloves as it infantilizes it, along with ideas of social conflict and drama, in a manner typically associated with superhero cinema.”

Update, 11/10:The Imitation Game wants for verisimilitude,” writes Graham Fuller in Film Comment. “Wartime England should look dingier, and Turing’s friendship with his smitten mathematician colleague Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) needn’t lurch into melodrama. Arrogant, testy, and vulnerable, Cumberbatch’s Turing is the most convincing of the real-life Bletchleyites…. The glossing-up of the story is excusable if one allows that a dourly realist approach would likely alienate multiplex audiences hitherto unaware of Turing’s achievement—not least as the father of the digital computer—and his unforgivable destruction.”

Updates, 11/13: Antonia Quirke in the Financial Times: “Disraeli (1916), The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln (1924), Napoleon (1927)—since the beginnings of film, the lives of great men have constituted an alluring, instructive, exhilarating genre. Yet so many are given an oversimplified, extra-sentimental push. One can’t blame Cumberbatch, whose face—with its by-now so familiar but still very peculiar top lip, like a crayon-drawn seagull—has the requisite depth and strangeness for the part. But where is the feeling of genius in the film? Where even a vague interest in a creative interpretation of its processes, as there is in Amadeus, for example, or even moments of A Beautiful Mind? Such an astonishing, crucial life as Turing’s deserves a more courageous, inventive film. Not this opportunistic, King’s Speech-like Oscar grab.

Viewing (5’16”). The Guardian interviews Cumberbatch and Knightley.

Updates, 11/15: Cumberbatch “is a bit Sherlockian, but it is a confident, plausible and thought-through performance,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “His Turing is utterly frank, entirely tactless, completely insufferable: people who do not have first-class minds, or are not likely to offer real assistance to those who have, are dismissed. He has the apparent arrogance and abruptness of a pampered child or brilliant bachelor don, which infuriates his commanding officer at Bletchley Park, Commander Denniston, played with gimlet-eyed ferocity by Charles Dance. Maybe Cumberbatch studied Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence before filming began, or Karl Johnson’s Ludwig Wittgenstein in Derek Jarman’s 1993 film. This Turing has the weirdly guileless candour that a military man would mistake for dumb insolence—although for me Cumberbatch does not resemble the famous semi-profile portrait photograph of Alan Turing whose half-smile has a dreamy, romantic quality.”

For Sophie Monks Kaufman at Little White Lies, “it seems that Tyldum and his collaborators want audiences to take the film seriously but not that seriously. Dramatic reveals occur in the most hilariously contrived fashion and triumphant zingers like, ‘Love just lost Hitler the war!’ never cease to jolt your head out of the narrative and into your palm.”

Update, 11/16: Mark Kermode in the Observer: “Historical liberties taken in the pursuit of drama range from the inevitable to the controversial (biographer Andrew Hodges, on whose book this is based, has complained that ‘they have built up the relationship with Joan,’ suggesting a coyness about Turing’s true sexuality), with occasional false steps of all too convenient overstatement (placing the brother of a key code-breaker on board a doomed ship). Yet for the most part, truth is sacrificed for the greater good of engaging cinema.”

Update, 11/17: Zainab Akande interviews Tyldum for Indiewire.

Updates, 11/23:The Imitation Game puts John Cairncross, a Soviet spy and possible ‘Fifth Man’ of the Cambridge spy ring, on Turing’s cryptography team,” notes Alex von Tunzelmann, writing for the Guardian. “Turing works out that Cairncross is a spy; but Cairncross threatens to expose his sexuality. ‘If you tell him my secret, I’ll tell him yours,’ he says. The blackmail works. Turing covers up for the spy, for a while at least. This is wholly imaginary and deeply offensive—for concealing a spy would have been an extremely serious matter. Were the makers of The Imitation Game intending to accuse Alan Turing, one of Britain’s greatest war heroes, of cowardice and treason? Creative licence is one thing, but slandering a great man’s reputation—while buying into the nasty 1950s prejudice that gay men automatically constituted a security risk—is quite another.”

“Blame for the clunkiness of The Imitation Game could be laid at any number of feet, including those of the Norwegian director, Morten Tyldum,” suggests Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. “Nor should the influence of Harvey Weinstein, whose company is releasing the picture, be discounted. To say that the film exhibits the Weinstein ‘touch’ would be inaccurate. These are blows, not touches, pawprints rather than fingerprints.”

Jada Yuan profiles Cumberbatch for New York.

Update, 11/24: Here’s a bit from the New Yorker‘s Anthony Lane that’s free to non-subscribers. Regarding Cumberbatch: “What is it that viewers of the BBC’s Sherlock have come to love about his Holmes if not a musing languor, touched with severe frost? That is a tribute to Conan Doyle, of course, and Cumberbatch treats the present day as if it were period drama. In truth, he seems at ease in any period, molding himself into an eminent Edwardian, in Parade’s End, a smooth and plausible William Pitt, in Amazing Grace, and a contented bringer of twenty-third-century mayhem, in Star Trek: Into Darkness.”

Updates, 11/29: 55 years after Turing’s death, “England officially apologized and then, in December 2013, the Queen granted Turing a royal pardon,” notes Justin Stewart in Reverse Shot. “Since one meaningless, too-little-too-late gesture deserves another, Turing has now been further apologized to with a handsome, mediocre prestige production. Begging forgiveness, it’s the film equivalent of a pretty bouquet tossed in the general direction of Turing’s columbarium, carrying a card reading ‘Oops.'”

“There is no sense that, between his chaste, intense and brief passion for Christopher and the anonymous encounter that led indirectly to his arrest, love, sex or romance played any significant part in Turing’s life at all,” adds A.O. Scott in the New York Times. Andrew Hodges’s 1983 biography, “threaded with quotations from Walt Whitman, gives eloquent and sensitive testimony to the contrary. For their part, the filmmakers, though willing to treat Turing as a victim of bigotry and repression, also nudge him back toward the closet, imposing a discretion that is at once self-protective and self-congratulatory.”

“The film is comparatively matter-of-fact about Turing being gay,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the AV Club. “Of greater interest now, it seems, is the possibility that Turing may have had Asperger’s syndrome, or some other condition on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Here, too, the title boasts a double meaning: Turing proposed an imitation game as a means of investigating the question of whether machines might one day be said to think, but it’s his efforts to mimic ‘normal’ human behavior—to get his colleagues to like him—that’s front and center.”

“Turing is unquestionably a modern martyr,” writes Amy Nicholson in the Voice, “but the film imprisons him as an asshole saint. He doesn’t fight or embrace his passions, he ignores them.”

“Unlike self-consciously unconventional biopics, The Imitation Game melds fact and invention with lucidity and sweep,” finds Michael Sragow, writing for Film Comment.

At the Dissolve, Scott Tobias adds that “this is a very important film about a very important man, and the gravity the film assigns itself is easily the worst thing about it. It’s much better as a superficial war adventure about counterattacking math wonks.”

Updates, 12/9:The Imitation Game hammers home the moral that Turing’s homosexuality cannot be separated from everything else that made him exceptional,” writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. “But by turning him into a case study in persecution—one among tens of thousands of victims cited in a closing title—the film pushes Turing into a crowd, at the risk of reducing this dazzlingly multifarious figure to a single thing: a martyr to homophobia.”

“Setting aside some profanity and half a dozen conversations about being gay, The Imitation Game could have been released without much trouble in 1951, the year in which a lot of the story is set,” suggests Wesley Morris at Grantland. “It actually might have been more enjoyable as an old mid-scale, black-and-white drama by the director Joseph Losey. As it is, the movie has a tiresome sense of old-fashioned propriety. Not only can you catch the whiff of mothballs, you can also smell the ersatz good taste.”

“How Accurate Is The Imitation Game?” L.V. Anderson looks into it for Slate.

The CreditsBryan Adams interviews editor Billy Goldenberg.

Update, 12/14: At Newcity Film, Ray Pride reserves a few kind words for “Keira Knightley as a sprite of steel, Matthew Goode as a profile-striking colleague and the great Mark Strong as an MI6 supervisor whose every intonation whispers to the heavens of an elemental greatness demonstrated nowhere else on the screen.”

Updates, 12/27: Christian Caryl for the New York Review of Books: “To anyone trying to turn this story into a movie, the choice seems clear: either you embrace the richness of Turing as a character and trust the audience to follow you there, or you simply capitulate, by reducing him to a caricature of the tortured genius. The latter, I’m afraid, is the path chosen by director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore in The Imitation Game.”

Nick Davis responds to Moore’s Golden Globe nomination: “On this auspicious occasion, I set aside the The Imitation Game‘s revisions of history, its pedestrian style, its confusing structure, its weakly differentiated supporting characters, its indiscernible grasp of the machineries and thought processes at its core, its patently improbable Eurekas (what if they’re all talking about Hitler??!), and its obnoxious re-closeting of Alan Turing, and I celebrate instead its poetry. Sometimes it is the screenplays that nobody could imagine that produce the most unimaginable lines, and repeat them unimaginably often, eliciting levels of praise that were never to be imagined.”

More from Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper, B-), Robert Horton (Seattle Weekly) and Kimberley Jones (Austin Chronicle, 3/5).

Updates, 1/11: “The portrait of arrogant genius during World War II seems a little cliched, a little too Foyle’s War-meets-Sherlock Holmes,” finds Philippa Hawker in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Steven Mears interviews Tyldum for Film Comment.

Update, 1/24: “If the film does nothing else but send you, as it did me, to Alan Hodges’s Alan Turing: The Enigma (1983, newly prefaced in the 2014 Princeton University Press edition) it more than justifies its existence,” suggests Amy Taubin, writing for Artforum. “Indifferently directed by Morten Tyldum with a thin, clichéd, sentimental script by Graham Moore, The Imitation Game is nevertheless something of a pleasure, purely because the actors rise above the material, bringing to their characters their own knowledge of the complex actual persons they play on screen.”

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