By Scott Feinberg
For a film made by a director whom few in America have ever heard of, The Imitation Game certainly came into the Telluride Film Festival with a lot of buzz — having Sherlock’s newly minted Emmy winner Benedict Cumberbatch as its star and marketing maven Harvey Weinstein’s Weinstein Co. as its distributor certainly didn’t hurt — but it will be leaving here with even more, thanks to a very well received world premiere on Friday evening at the Werner Herzog Theatre.
Adapted by Graham Moore from Andrew Hodges’ book Alan Turing: The Enigma, the history-inspired period-piece drama is already being called a cross between A Beautiful Mind (2001) and The King’s Speech (2010), two films that won the best picture Oscar. It’s premature to predict the same outcome for The Imitation Game, but with the muscle of Weinstein (who flew out to the Rockies for the premiere) firmly behind it, it’s a fairly safe bet that the film will at least be nominated for that honor — among others.
The Nov. 21 release certainly has a lot going for it, including high production values, a beautiful score, a love story, a social message, and even a great pull-quote for its posters: “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” But the best thing that it has in its favor is the performance of Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the British mathematician who was recruited by MI6 during World War II to try to decode intercepted German communications. The good news for “Cumberbitches” (the self-ascribed nickname adopted by some of his legions of fans) is that, at least on the big screen, their man has never been better.
For a guy who was instrumental in helping to defeat the Nazis, Turing is not nearly as famous or celebrated as he should be for a variety of reasons. Much of his work was kept secret for decades. He himself has not been around to talk about it. And, frankly, if he were, he might be discouraged from doing so, based on the social awkwardness with which he was almost as associated as his intellectual genius. Indeed, many experts believe that Turing was probably afflicted with Asperger syndrome — he was certainly on the autism spectrum — at a time before such diagnoses existed.
Cumberbatch is perfect for this character, and it’s hard to think of anyone else today who could inhabit it. The actor nails the vocal and behavioral manifestations of someone dealing with those sorts of issues (among others) as well as, if not better than, the longstanding gold standard, Hugh Dancy in the 2009 film Adam. And it doesn’t hurt that he also possesses a bit of an otherworldly countenance — he recently told me that he thinks he looks like an otter — since he’s playing a man who is so different from those around him that he seems almost like an alien to them. Anyway, the collective package simply works, and if Cumberbatch doesn’t end up with a best actor Oscar nomination, I will be very surprised.
He does not excel in a bubble, though: he is surrounded in the film by an excellent supporting ensemble, led by Keira Knightley, who is excellent (as always) as Joan Clarke, Turing’s faithful sidekick in matters professional and personal (think: the Jennifer Connelly to his Russell Crowe), plus Matthew Goode and Mark Strong, two consistently dependable character actors. I wouldn’t at all rule out the possibility of Knightley cracking into the best supporting actress Oscar field — if, that is, she’s willing to hit the campaign trail a bit, which hasn’t always been the case.
Some may take issue with elements of the film — the historical accuracy of the Turing-Clarke relationship, the failure to really explain how Turing’s “Enigma” device worked, the claims that Turing’s efforts were the difference between victory and defeat in a number of battles and indeed the war itself, etc. — but the overall product is interesting, enjoyable, and, my gut tells me, the stuff happy Oscar seasons are made of.