The Imitation Game – LFF Review

The Imitation Game

The world’s sweetheart Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the man who cracked the German Enigma code and generally did clever things with computers before computers existed. Set during the Second World War at code-cracking HQ Bletchley Park The Imitation Game follows Turing from his recruitment through to the cracking of Enigma with flashes back to his childhood and forwards to a glimpse at his struggles after the war. The film has the solid, slightly predictable, feel of a classic British period drama despite coming from an American screenwriter (Graham Moore) and Norwegian director (Morten Tyldum). It is 2014’s answer to The King’s Speech and Saving Mr Banks and as such feels a little safe and familiar.

On first glance The Imitation Game is a thoroughly enjoyable film. In fact it is a thoroughly enjoyable film but on closer inspection could have been so much better. Cumberbatch is of course brilliant in the role of the socially awkward closeted genius (nobody mention Sherlock please) and the supporting cast of Keira Knightley, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, and many others each give their best dramatic performances with plenty of humour thrown in. The acting is solid and the script allows for plenty of laughs in a film about a tedious solution to a life threatening problem. The Imitation Game even managed to make the problem of Enigma and its ultimate solution almost comprehensible. Certainly comprehensible enough for those of us watching to have a grasp on the issue and know how badly they were doing at solving it.

On the surface The Imitation Game is a fine British film, the sort to garner applause at a press screening and generate some Oscar buzz. Scratching beneath the surface however reveals a film that is far from perfect.

The Imitation Game 2

What lets The Imitation Game down is that it focusses so much on just one aspect of both the work at Bletchley Park and the life of Alan Turing. Bletchley Park was not done and dusted the minute Enigma was cracked. As the film briefly mentions there were years after cracking the code during which Turing and his team had to decide which of the decoded attacks they could avert and which they had to let happen for fear of revealing to the Germans that Enigma was no longer secure. This moral maze of weighing up human lives using statistics would have been fascinating to watch and made for a tricky test for the character of Turing but after a quick mention The Imitation Game skips on. It’s hard to understand why so much time was dedicated to a short period in Turing’s life. Cracking Enigma may have ended the war but it certainly wasn’t an immediate victory. When a film focusses on an event that finishes years before the war ends it removes any real sense of triumph as we are no longer with the characters when the enemy finally surrenders. The war is won in the blink of an eye and this climax is decidedly anticlimactic.

As for the life of Alan Turing the film does detail the messy and unfair ending to his life but I did not feel that enough was made of the appalling way he was treated by the government in the final years of his life. By the end of the film Alan Turing the man, rather than Alan Turing the code breaking machine, still remained a mystery to me. The Imitation Game shows a lot of Turing’s actions but fails to uncover what was going on inside his head. Turing’s was clearly a light of triumph and suffering but only a snapshot of the latter was afforded the audience.

The tragic personal life of Alan Turing and the triumphant decoding of Enigma make for strange bedfellows as they are presented in The Imitation Game. The two strands of the film, that of an enemy being outsmarted and of a genius being abused by a government, don’t quite tie together and as one crescendos the other nosedives leaving the audience unsure what emotion to feel. Alan Turing definitely has a story to be told and The Imitation Game is an admirable attempt at telling it but not complete.

A fine British film, by an American and a Norwegian, that will do very well at the box office and please most that go to see it. But sadly a film that feels like a missed opportunity. The press conference after the screening was filled with anger at how Turing was treated but this aspect of his life was too much of a footnote in the film itself.

You will enjoy it, just don’t over think it too much. I clearly have.

The Imitation Game has a UK release date of 14th November 2014 and screens at the London Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of October 2014.

Below is a photo from the press conference, click to make a little too big. The main takeaway from the conference would be some advice from Benedict Cumberbatch; if you are intrigued by the character of Alan Turing then do not stop with this film. Read everything you can about Turing as The Imitation Game is only the start.

Imitation Game Press Conference

BFI LFF 2014

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – DVD Review

Film
It’s the Cold War and there’s a mole in the circus (the upper echelon of MI6). It is up to Gary Oldman’s Smiley to sniff out the mole and look miserable doing so.

The most understated film about spies you will ever see. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy doesn’t focus on dramatic chase scenes or explosions; this is a film about men mistrusting other men as they sit around in smoke-filled offices sharing suspicious glances. This is a British film of incredibly high calibre; from the acting of Oldman, Firth, Cumberbatch, Hurt, Strong, Hardy, Jones and friends to the fantastically textured production design. Tinker oozes class from its every pore.

The plot may not be the easiest to follow, and the final reveal of the mole comes with little satisfaction, but there is no doubt that this is a special film including a career defining performance from Gary Oldman. Why not spend a few pennies and class up your dangerously teetering stack of DVDs? If you need more convincing read the full review from last September.

Extras
For a change I’m not going to rant about the lack of extras on a DVD, everyone let out a sigh of relief. This DVD comes with a commentary from Gary Oldman and director Tomas Alfredson, some deleted scenes and a thirty minute interview with John le Carré, author of the original novel (as if you didn’t know). It’s not exactly a treasure trove of extras but as this is a film mostly made up of people talking in rooms (love it) there’s not much for a behind the scenes documentary to reveal.

Summary
Slow burning spy thriller of the finest British quality well worth owning on DVD.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has been out on DVD and Blu-ray for ages, I’m just incredibly lazy.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy DVD provided by BBCShop.com

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Review

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, in which Smiley (Gary Oldman) is tasked with finding a soviet spy amongst the upper echelon’s of MI6, is pure class.

With a stoic lead performance from Gary Oldman, a performance allowing just two and a half displays of emotion, sets the tone in this slow and steady retelling of John le Carré’s now classic tale. As spy thrillers go this is definitely one of the most sedate. The story unfolds at a relaxed pace, no detail is rushed past and no flashback is over in a flash. With a pace this slow the film risks becoming boring, but the quality performances filling out every scene don’t allow for this to happen.

The subtle direction never wavers and refuses to get distracted by the action appearing on-screen. A scene featuring torture and murder is shot in exactly the same fashion as Gary Oldman returning home and walking through his house. It is such a thoroughly British film, one evoking a certain Izzard routine, it is surprising to find the director is Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish director of Let the Right One In.

Oldman is not alone in providing quality acting, the whole stellar cast shine in this no-frills production. Tom Hardy and Mark Strong are the best I’ve ever seen them, Colin Firth continues to carve out his position as a “proper actor”, John Hurt and Benedict Cumberbatch are joyful to watch as ever and Kathy Burke is a little bit of a revelation. It feels like a genuine treat to see the best of British given the space to strut their stuff.

Where Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy leaves itself open to criticism in with the coherency of the plot. It wasn’t always clear exactly how a particular scene fit into the overall plot, and once the mole was revealed it felt as if any of the suspects could have been in the same position with almost no huge effect on the rest of the film.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a film of rare quality but is a little too emotionally detached to bring pure joy. Regardless, you are required to see it when released on 16th September 2011.
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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Trailer

Forget the trailer for War Horse, there’s another film with its first trailer out this week and it has a few shots of horses and a lot more dramatic looking British luvvies. Sadly, as it’s comprised of mostly dramatic faces we can’t really do a trailer dissection, or we could but it’s Friday and we’re too tired.

How many of the following can you spot: Gary Oldman, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Ciarán Hinds, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Konstantin Khabensky, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Roger Lloyd Pack, and Mark Strong.