Biopic Capsule Review

TIFF Capsule Review: The Imitation Game

September 10, 2014Ben MK

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Secrets and lies...

On the surface, Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of renowned British mathematician Alan Turing in The Imitation Game seems to harken back to his turn as Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate, as both roles — at least initially — strike audiences as being that of aloof and arrogant geniuses. But take heed of the question — "Are you paying attention?" — that Cumberbatch himself poses at the start of this biopic. Because there's more to the man — and the story of his secret life and work during the Second World War — than meets the eye.


While many may only be familiar with Turing's academic accomplishments, the film chronicles his lesser-known exploits as part of an elite grouping of minds tapped by MI6 to crack the German Enigma code, used by the Third Reich to transmit encrypted messages to the front lines. Despite working tirelessly to complete their top-secret mission, it was a machine built by Turing himself — which eventually paved the way for modern computing — that ultimately helped them achieve success, expediting the Allies' victory. But as classified as this work was, Turing guarded a more controversial secret: his homosexuality. And less than a decade after the war ended, his persecution for it — then still considered a crime — led to his suicide.

Although the story unfolds somewhat nonlinearly, alternating between key moments in Turing's life, director Mort Tyldum's (Headhunters) film is still very much in the vein of traditional biopics. Yet the story evokes not only heartbreak, but humor and inspiration, thanks to Cumberbatch's impressively nuanced take on the role. Bolstered by a winning cast — especially Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, a woman whose own experience with prejudice helps her form a close bond with Turing — the result is a compelling portrait of a tortured genius that few people really knew (and even fewer truly understood).  Ben Mk

The Imitation Game receives its Canadian premiere as part of TIFF 2014's Special Presentations programme and is currently scheduled for a November 2014 release by Elevation Pictures. Photo credit: Elevation Pictures.

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