Film and TV

Triumphs and Tragedies Fill the Choppy Imitation Game

"Politics really isn't my specialty," shrugs Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to a naval commander (Charles Dance) in an early job-interview scene in Morten Tyldum's choppy biopic The Imitation Game. Yet no less than Winston Churchill would credit Turing as the main cause of the Allies' victory over the Nazis.

Turing wasn't much for manners, either — or jokes, small talk, modesty or hints. His focus was on cracking Germany's Enigma code before more good English chaps had to die. Solving the Enigma was so impossible, it'd be bitterly funny...if only Turing knew how to tell a punchline. Instead, Cumberbatch squares his narrow shoulders, lowers his thin jaw and gets to work, raising his head only to tell the rest of his team that they're a bunch of useless idiots. The only person he respects is his hire, a suburban genius (Keira Knightley) forced to pass herself off as a secretary — and who deserves her own biopic.

Seven years after the Allies won the war, Turing's own country would arrest him for gross indecency and force him to pick between jail or chemical castration. The man who saved the world wouldn't get a government pardon for 62 years.

The Imitation Game is too mannerly to ask Cumberbatch to act on Turing's feelings. There's no flirtation, kissing, nothing. The film hinges on a misdirection: The investigator (Tom Goodman-Hill) who reveals Turing's homosexuality initially believes he's chasing down a spy. The screenwriters ask us to wonder the same, a bizarre and pointless feint. Rather than a complex human portrait, this is an assemblage of triumphs, tragedies and tics.

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Amy Nicholson was chief film critic at LA Weekly from 2013 to 2016. Her work also appeared in the other Voice Media Group publications — the Village Voice, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press, Dallas Observer and OC Weekly. Nicholson’s criticism was recognized by the Los Angeles Press Club and the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. Her first book, Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor, was published in 2014 by Cahiers du Cinema.