Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Imitation Game

Directed by: Morten Tyldum

Produced by: Nora Grossman
Ido Ostrowsky
Teddy Schwarzman

Screenplay by: Graham Moore

Based on: Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch
Keira Knightley
Matthew Goode
Mark Strong
Charles Dance
Allan Leech
Matthew Beard
Rory Kinnear

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by: Oscar Faura

Editing by: William Goldenberg

Studio(s): Black Bear Pictures
Bristol Automotive

Distributed by: StudioCanal (United Kingdom)
The Weinstein Company (United States)

Release date(s): August 29, 2014 (Telluride Film Festival)
November 14, 2014 (United Kingdom)
November 28, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 114 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
United States

Production budget: $15 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $21, 599, 005

Needless to say, preparations have been made to get myself ready for the big catchup over the coming months as 2014 closes and we enter awards season. I admit wholeheartedly that there have been a good few notable films that I have missed this year and will probably not get a chance to review. However, I do make a promise that I will try to see as many of them as I possibly can before I do my Annual Best and Worst (eight years running!) before the Oscars. Following this review, I will get round to reviewing The Grand Budapest Hotel, and also having a look at Calvary, Under The Skin, The Basement, Birdman, The Pyramid, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies and no doubt numerous other notables over this coming period. So, for all the latest and greatest according to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is The Imitation Game, which in case you haven't heard about it yet is the critically-acclaimed British-American period biopic of Alan Turing. Already the film has received numerous accolades (including winning the People's Choice Award for Best Film at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was named among the American Film Institute Top Ten Films of 2014) and was nominated for a slew of critics' society awards and picked up five noms for the upcoming Golden Globes in January. I think even at this stage it's a pretty safe bet to say that it will be a front-runner at both the BAFTA and the Oscars once the nominations are announced. It has all the recipe of a British prestige picture (biopic, period setting, centrepiece for actors) that we've seen the Oscars love in films like The King's Speech, Shakespeare In Love, The English Patient (and that's just the Best Picture winners, never mind nominees, which are included in no less than nine of the last twenty years of Oscars noms), and Lord knows that BAFTA, much as I prefer them to the Oscars, love to tote up one of their own. Indeed, I'll go so far as to say right now that I predict that Benedict Cumberbatch will win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He's on an all-time career high and if there's any rules about predictions with the Oscars, it's all about timing. Anywho, enough talking about the awards hoo-ha, let's get on with the movie itself. As mentioned, it is a biopic on Alan Turing (Cumberbatch). At the start of World War II, Turing, a first-class honours student in mathematics and Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, is brought in, alongside a group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers to work as code breakers at the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. The film spans three different periods in Turing's life; his unhappy teenage years at an all-boys boarding school, the aforementioned central story, which sees him eventually lead the cryptanalyst team into cracking Nazi Germany's Enigma Code and helping them win the war, and his later decline as he is convicted for gross indecency due to his maintaining a homosexual relationship. Now, I wouldn't worry about plot spoilers, because we more or less get all of this information fairly early into the movie, and what we really find out over the course of the picture, it's central thesis, if you will, is through the protracted character study of Turing. Got it? Good!

So, to start off with the good, following up on my, some would say, bold prediction that Cumberbatch would win Best Actor at the Oscars, part of that reasoning also comes from the fact that he does deliver a really great performance. It has been widely reported the amount of research that he has done into the part, that is good and dandy, but what really interested me was how detailed his work was. He truly gets inside of Turing, wonderfully portraying in that most Cumberbatch-like of ways the man's physical body, whose language suggests someone who is almost ready to burst at the seams with the endless possibilities of his ideas and theories. Also, his vocal delivery is nuanced, with lots of suggestive little nooks and crannies hidden in the way he chooses to syllabically pronounce certain lines of dialogue. Furthermore, I think it is indicative of Cumberbatch's ability that he is able to make his very awkward, sensitive Turing, a man whose certainty in himself crosses well into the territory of narcissism, still rather, likeable and touching. It reminded me of Jack Nicholson's Oscar-winning turn as the obsessive-compulsive misanthropic author Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets (although Cumberbatch's Turing is more Asperger to Udall's OCD), in that despite being a deeply flawed individual, we are still able to recognise his qualities above all, and that is the skill of a great actor. Speaking of acting, Keira Knightley gives her second solid performance of 2014 in the supporting part of Joan Clarke, Turing's closed friend, confidante and lone female member of his code-cracking team. I think that Knightley does a splendid job of depicting Clarke as a more than capable foil to Cumberbatch's Turing. It's a character that could have ended up being a trope, but I think Knightley elevates what is already well-written characters on paper into something altogether more memorable. She feels like a legitimate voice of reason in the midst of all this, a bastion of strength in the uncertain thrills and chills of the story. Speaking of characters, one of the strongest elements in the film's script (a work of real flair by debutant feature-film screenwriter Graham Moore) is the level of depth and complexity with which these characters have been injected. I've always been of the opinion that while you can get a bad performance out of good screenwriting, it is nigh-on impossible to get a good performance without a good script. There is a well-developed quality to the facets that Moore gives the characters of Turing and Clarke. Also, the characters have a sense of belonging to a certain level of a rational, familiar world (even if we are not at war) because of the rich quality of dialogue on the written page. I've already mentioned Cumberbatch's masterful pronunciation, but I think that his talents are more than backed up by the dexterity in what he has to say. Another of the film's qualities is that it is also very well-shot by Spanish cinematographer Oscar Faura. After making his bones as Juan Antonio Bayona's DP on The Orphanage and The Impossible, as well as numerous other Spanish genre films, it's great to see Faura ply his craft into a major mainstream picture. As with much of his work, The Imitation Game has a crisp, textured quality to it's visuals, not so far as hyper-realism but an enhancement of the colour palette, which works terrifically with the overall mise-en-scene. As we've seen with many of these WWII-based period dramas, they can often look rather drab and ugly, but Faura's work highlights and elevates the effort made towards realising this world onscreen. Finally, director Morten Tyldum does a fine job at the helm of his English-language debut film. The Imitation Game has had a long production process in making it to the screen, topping the Black List in 2011 and having passed through Warner Bros., who reportedly paid seven-figures for the screenplay due to Leonardo DiCaprio's interest in playing Turing. However, Tyldum's picture is a much more modest beast at the relatively low-budgeted $15 million and for the most part it remains a consistent picture that delivers on the right beats.

That said, while I enjoyed The Imitation Game very much due to it's performances, characters, dialogue, cinematography and directing, I think that there are numerous aspects that deny it from being a great movie. I have no doubts, and neither do most other critics, that it'll be a major awards contender in the coming couple of months, but when I think of 'awards movies,' I think of the creme de la creme, the best of the best. To use a metaphor only a cheese fanatic would understand (but you'll get the point), this is pure fromage blanc without any of the extra cream that makes it so much more flavoursome. The first problem with that is due to the central plot structure. While I liked the dialogue and characters, I feel structurally the three parallel timelines do not entirely work. I admire Moore for trying to do something different as opposed to the straight biopic, but a tale told chronologically may have been more appropriate. I understand it's purpose and how aesthetically it's meant to resemble Turing as an Enigma in his own right, how gradually come to break his code, but I think that it is too much gimmickry in an otherwise strong script. It also has a negative effect upon the editing by William Goldenberg. His cutting, normally reliable and efficient (he won an Oscar for his stellar work on Argo), comes across as a sharp and annoying distraction. Any time we begin to get that transcendent investment in a movie that makes that magic connection between audience and art, we are deprived of this connection. As I said, I understand the aesthetics, but I do not feel it is necessary or recommended to keep the audience at a 'safe' distance. The final negative aspect I have to comment upon is the score by Alexandre Desplat. It's no secret that I have a mixed rapport with the French composer's work, but I have warmed up to him in recent years. Among the most in-demand composers in movies the world over, he is admittedly a highly-gifted classicist in the vein of a Franz Waxman or Max Steiner. However, I find depending on the project and the work that emerges from it, Desplat is a bit of an acquired taste. Here, this doesn't taste too good. His piano is to the fore, but I didn't feel that his work with the London Symphony Orchestra here had the strength to transcend like that in better movies he has scored such as Lust, Caution, The Upside Of Anger (underrated), A Prophet, The Tree Of Life, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Philomena.

Despite there being a relatively large amount of words being written highlighting the negative aspects of The Imitation Game, most specifically the plot structure of the script, which in turn has an affect upon the editing, and the acquired taste of Alexandre Desplat's musical compositions, The Imitation Game is still a very good movie. While not at the level of great prestige biopics such as Serpico, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, Bird, Ed Wood and Gods And Monsters (sorely overlooked James Whale biopic by Bill Condon), it still boasts an excellent lead performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, a strong supporting one from Keira Knightley, both of whom are bolstered up by thoroughly fleshed out characters and dialogue from Graham Moore, who treats his subject with great respect. It's also very well shot by Oscar Faura, who manages to give a bit of life and colour to a texturally drab period, and Morten Tyldum does a fine job in the director's chair. Not up there with the best of the prestige biopics, or the very best of the year, for that matter, but nonetheless a very good picture.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool

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