Benedict Cumberbatch Is Exceptional, The Imitation Game Is Not – A Review


Mediocre film, extraordinary star

Benedict Cumberbatch has been labeled an accidental superstar and for good reason. Without classical movie star looks, and without the sort of tabloid lifestyle most superstars have, Cumberbatch has quickly gone from being that actor everyone loves in something to on the verge of superstardom. The star of the BBC series Sherlock, Cumberbatch was one of the many highlights of Star Trek Into Darkness and has a breakthrough role as Doctor Strange on the horizon. But before all is said and done he might wind up being the first Academy Award winner to headline a Marvel Studios production. As Alan Turing, the man who invented the first modern computer and broke the German encryption machine Enigma in World War 2, Cumberbatch has staked his claim to an Academy Award with perhaps the finest performance of 2014.

The rest of the film, however, isn’t quite as good and it leads Cumberbatch to carry a fairly mediocre biopic much higher than it has any right to be.

Turing was the man who helmed the team that developed Christopher, the first attempt at a computer and the machine that broke the seemingly unbreakable German code. He also was a homosexual in an era where it was illegal, the cost of behavior prison time or chemical castration. We follow Turing in flashback form, as we hear him tell the tale of his escapades of the past as he gets arrested on the indecency charge that would lead to his suicide in 1954. Juxtaposed with Turing as a child, dealing with his first childhood crush, as his general awkwardness combined with his incredible intelligence made him the child who was profoundly bullied by his peers.

And Cumberbatch, no stranger to playing socially awkward characters, takes a much tougher route with Turing and doesn’t play him as the same sort of affected anti-social genius that he uses for Sherlock Holmes. Turing is an introverted man who we would diagnose as most likely autistic to a certain degree these days and Cumberbatch plays him as such. Turing is a man who’s profoundly intelligent but so profoundly awkward that dealing with a team is something his mind can’t grasp.

This is Cumberbatch’s film and he carries it in a brilliant manner. It’d be easy for him to play it like Sherlock but he manages to carve out an entirely different character from a similar pathos. Cumberbatch takes a profoundly conflicted human being in Turing and brings out the sympathy in his quirks. A lot of actors would play him more autistic, or potentially closer to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes in The Aviator as opposed to someone who is much harder to like (and much harder to play). It’s a bold acting choice that pays off in spades because Cumberbatch has played a similar character before. Some actors would go significantly in either direction of how to play it and Cumberbatch has an edge in that he’s already played a similar character.

The most apt comparison is that of Sean Penn and Milk, another fairly pedestrian film, as this is a fairly straight forward biopic. There’s plenty interesting about Turing’s life, and his contribution to modern society, but the story of cracking Enigma isn’t one that’s going to be engrossing.

Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Graham Moore, based on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges
Notable Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong

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