Alan Turing, the pioneering British mathematician who cracked Nazi Germany's Enigma code and helped win World War II, gets the deciphering treatment himself in the new biopic "The Imitation Game" (opening today in limited release). Norwegian director Morten Tyldum's film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, examines Turing's personal and professional struggles as a brilliant but aloof man and a closeted homosexual at a time when being gay was a crime in England.
According to movie critics, it's an engrossing and entertaining film with a standout performance by Cumberbatch, although it's not quite as groundbreaking as its protagonist.
The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, "The disturbing, involving, always-complex story of British mathematician Alan Turing is a tale crafted to resonate for our time, and the smartly entertaining 'The Imitation Game' gives it the kind of crackerjack cinematic presentation that's pure pleasure to experience."
Turing is "exceptionally well-played" by Cumberbatch, Turan says, and although the movie "does not lack for conventional elements … they are handled with such depth and emotion by a top cast that includes Keira Knightley, Mark Strong and Charles Dance that we end up impressed by the level of intelligent storytelling it provides."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott calls "The Imitation Game" a "highly conventional movie about a profoundly unusual man," but adds, "This is not entirely a bad thing." Cumberbatch delivers "one of the year's finest pieces of screen acting," suggesting in Turing both "cold detachment and acute sensitivity at the same time." Tyldum meanwhile "orchestrates a swift and suspenseful race against the clock with a few touches of intrigue and ethical uncertainty."
Scott, however, seems to wish the film were more a bit more daring. He writes, "[I]t has the shiny, hollow ring of conventional wisdom. It's kind of perfect, and also kind of stale."
Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty writes, "I suspect some people will find 'The Imitation Game's' tidier plot contrivances and on-the-nose metaphors to be too conventionally Hollywood, or grouse that Turing's rougher edges have been sanded down to achieve a genteel, for-your-consideration polish. I can think of worse sins. Especially because the film is anchored by yet another hypnotically complex Cumberbatch performance." The film also benefits from the "chess-match ingenuity" of director Tyldum and a "terrifically plucky" performance from Keira Knightley.
The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern puts things into mathematical terms. He writes, "It's a marvelous story about science and humanity, plus a great performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, plus first-rate filmmaking and cinematography, minus a script that muddles its source material to the point of betraying it. Those strengths make the movie worth seeing, but the writing keeps eating away at the narrative's clarity — and integrity — until it's impossible to separate the glib fictions from the remarkable facts."
USA Today's Claudia Puig also finds the film compelling if not quite genius. She writes, "'Imitation' illuminates Turing's brilliance in an engrossing and moving film that features a standout, Oscar-worthy performance by Benedict Cumberbatch." She adds that the film is "well-crafted, solidly acted, with evocative production design and a convincing period feel. But it stops short of excellence."
For a few critics, among them the New Jersey Star-Ledger's Stephen Whitty, "The Imitation Game" doesn't quite add up. Whitty describes the film as "perhaps overcomplicated, and yet at the same time somewhat simplistic.… It never quite brings everything together into a dramatic whole."
Part of the problem, Whitty says, is that the movie partly hinges on Turing's homosexuality but doesn't delve deeply into it. "Considering [his sex life] led to his downfall, doesn't it deserve a place here? And if he did lead a mostly celibate life, too shy or scared to truly live his own sexuality, wouldn't that be something to dramatize, too? 'The Imitation Game' is willing to take Turing out of the closet — but only as far as the hallway."