Cumberbatch Saves the ‘Game’

Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Anyone who follows the career of Benedict Cumberbatch knows three things: he is considered a god in the Tumblr universe, he does a spot-on impression of Severus Snape and he is talented as hell. You can’t deny that the Brit has been killing it onscreen in his role as a socially-impaired genius on BBC’s “Sherlock,” a sympathetic slave owner (if there is such a thing) in “12 Years a Slave” and a fire-breathing dragon in “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.”

Co-star Keira Knightley is no stranger to Hollywood success either, having achieved fame and recognition in her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice,” and sailing the seven seas as Ms. Swann in the first two installments of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Having said that, it was only a matter of time before the two superstars crossed paths. And that day has finally come in the latest cinematic release of “Imitation Game,” based on a true story. Although the plot was painfully predictable and Knightley’s performance was slightly underwhelming, both Cumberbatch as well as the utilization of flashbacks are able to anchor the film as a whole and produce an engaging story that tackles a plethora of issues of not only war and loss, but sexuality and love.

It’s World War II and the Allies are losing. Britain is under relentless attack from the Germans and the British government is frantically searching for a team of cryptanalysts to break the code of Enigma, the German’s advanced method of radio communication, in an effort to bring the war to a swift conclusion. Luckily for MI6, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is just the man for the job.

A recent graduate of Princeton and King’s College, Turing’s brilliance in mathematics more than makes up for his  inability to work with others. As the Germans continue to bomb British convoy ships and supplies, he races against time  to build a machine that can break the German code. Turing’s disregard for the rest of the team makes life for lead analyst, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and his fellow members a nightmare, all except for Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), the sole female on the team who quickly becomes smitten with Turing.

Cumberbatch works his magic yet again, effortlessly encapsulating the quirks and oddities of Turing and projecting his internal struggle with sexuality on-screen with ease. The calculated and sometimes cold manner in which Turing behaves creates tension with his peers and is masterfully executed by Cumberbatch. This is then juxtaposed with brief glimpses of the mental baggage Turing carries, as he struggles to keep his identity as a gay man a secret, out of fear of persecution. Unlike what he’s done in previous roles, Cumberbatch juggles the burden of a brilliant mind and the vulnerability that comes with it.

Knightley, on the other hand, falls a little short. As the only female character on a cast that is predominantly male, the stage was set for a fearless and strong female presence. Although Knightley works well to provide a tenderness to the film and is a breath of fresh air that humanizes Cumberbatch’s character, she is unable to lend a voice to Clarke and give the “I’m a woman doing a man’s job” attitude some weight.

As a structure that is simplistic in its framework and lacks creativity, the  flashbacks are a much-needed element, as they work to break up the monotonous pacing of the film and serve as a tool that works to characterize Turing even further and provide insight into his development as  a young boy. These moments give context as to when Turing first got in touch with his sexuality and how the tragic loss of his first love created deep-rooted emotional issues that translated to his life as an adult, resulting in a relationship with Clarke he doesn’t fully understand and a struggle to embrace life as an openly gay man.

As a whole, this film contained a mediocre performance by Knightley and a structure that failed to challenge audience expectations. Despite its shortcomings, “The Imitation Game” is able to play to its strengths, showcasing brilliant acting on Cumberbatch’s part and emphasizing the unique theme of sexual identity and belonging found in a common story of war.

 

ONLY RECOMMENDED IF: “The Imitation Game” displays a stunning lead performance in the midst of a forgettable plot structure.