“Imitation Game” Casting Review

Benedict Cumberbatch is arguably the actor of our generation and has played more iconic roles these past few years than most actors have played in a lifetime. He’s played the

incomparable Sherlock Holmes, the iconic Star Trek villain Khan, the dreadful dragon Smaug, and is gearing up to play the comic book superhero Doctor Strange in Marvel’s ever expanding cinematic universe. Although Cumberbatch has been quickly ascending the ranks of Hollywood, his portrayal of the tortured and misunderstood scientist Alan Turing in The Imitation Game is his most buzzed about to date. In fact, his performance has already garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, amongst others.

 

Adding to the already swollen ranks of biopics this season, The Imitation Game joins the likes of Foxcatcher, The Theory of Everything, Selma, and American Sniper (to name a few). Like its peers, The Imitation Game is a biographical tale that will not only move you with its stellar performances, but will also help to enlighten you to the struggles of a genuine war hero and trailblazer whose life and contributions deserve to be celebrated. The Imitation Game tells the tale of Alan Turing, a brilliant British mathematician who is recruited by the military and British intelligence to help crack “Enigma” – the secret code the Nazis used to communicate during World War II.

 

Like most gifted savants, Alan is not without his eccentricities, and although he’s brilliant when it comes to mathematics and computing, the same cannot be said about his people skills. After joining the British military, he readily isolates himself from his teammates, and considers most of them a burden. After a bit of a shuffle, Turing ultimately gets his way and is assigned team leader of the group. After reorganizing the team (he fires a couple members), he recruits a gifted female numismatist named ‘Joan Clarke’ to complete the team. From there, Turing unveils his grand scheme – he wants to build a device capable of cracking Enigma, a device that will go on to lay the ground work for computing technology as we know it.

 

Joan is played by A-list British actress Keira Knightley who is in her element here. After showcasing her singing abilities in the cute indie musical Begin Again, and sporting an American accent in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Knightley is back to help tell the tale of Alan and his journey. As one would expect from Knightley, she’s not a simple damsel to be wooed in this piece, and her Joan is as independent and strong as she is brilliant. Joan is one of the few people in Alan’s life to really get to know him, and the two develop a cute, albeit unconventional “romance.” Due to Joan’s personal connection with Alan, she then becomes one of the few, if only, emotional outlets for him. Cumberbatch’s Alan is very guarded about his feelings, and honestly, probably didn’t know how to express them too well – which made his emotional outbursts and moments all the more meaningful and poignant. Many of these moments were with Joan, and Knightley does a commendable job at helping to peel back the layers of his complex persona. Knightley definitely deserves her Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in this film.

 

Although Alan readily takes a liking to Joan, he does eventually grow to tolerate, and even befriend the other members of his code cracking team. His fellow cohorts are made up of ‘Hugh Alexander’, ‘John Cairncross’, and ‘Peter Hilton’ – played by Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, and Matthew Beard, respectively. Although the movie could have easily just focused primarily on Turing and Joan, it does a refreshingly good job at giving its supporting characters plenty of three dimensionality and development. Alan’s achievements were definitely a team effort, and each person on the team played integral parts not only in his professional life, but in his personal life as well. Matthew Goode plays Hugh, and in pure Matthew Goode form, he injects his unique brand of leading man good looks smothered in dark and brooding gravitas. Goode is a disturbingly diverse thespian and seems to have the uncanny ability to blend into any cinematic background. Whether he’s playing a superhero in Watchmen, or a dashing romantic lead in Leap Year, he does it with an air of classical quality and boyish charm. He also plays the creeper sinister type well…like all too well. Have you seen him in Match Point or Stoker? Enough said. Moving on, Downton Abbey actor Allen Leech plays John Cairncross and although he seems like a British everyman and loyal member on Alan’s team, he later is revealed to be a Soviet spy and eventually blackmails Alan by threatening to out his sexuality. Interestingly, although it seems like John is a villain in this, he’s really not. He still proves to be a useful asset to the cause, and despite his ulterior motives, he does act as one of Alan’s few friends. Matthew Beard then rounds out the team as Peter. Peter is definitely the youngest member of the group, and with his youth comes wide-eyed naiveté, and all its ups and downs.

 

Besides Alan and his team, other notable characters include ‘Commander Denniston’, played by Charles Dance; and ‘Stewart Menzies’, played by Mark Strong. Dance, probably best known for playing the sinister and overbearing patriarch in HBO’s Game of Thrones, has readily been taking advantage of his reputation, and his role as Commander Denniston is not unlike his recent work. Most recently he was seen playing an age old vampire in the 2014 blockbuster Dracula Untold opposite Luke Evans. Not surprisingly, Dance’s Denniston is stern, cold, and readily commands respect and compliance. He also happens to run the base where Alan and his group work, making him his direct supervisor and the man he has to answer to. Naturally, Alan and Denniston bump heads often, especially when Alan isn’t able to show any significant progress in his quest to crack Enigma. Strong’s Stewart is another de facto overseer in Alan’s life, although he is definitely more of a “cool uncle” type than a stern parent. Stewart works for Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6, so he also has quite a large stake in Alan’s work. Because of his position with the government, he becomes an important go-to for Alan whenever he needs help and advice, especially when he encounters push back from Denniston. Then, once Alan and his team actually crack Enigma, Stewart plays an even bigger role with the group as they have to coordinate how much information they can release to Britain’s armed forces and their allies. Strong always has a natural swagger and dark charisma to him, which readily comes out in Stewart. He’s next coming out in the British action flick Kingsman, where he also plays a member of an elite intelligence organization.

 

The final two characters worth mentioning have an extra unique stake in the film as they are integrated with the story’s narrative time jumps. Alan’s exploits are told via flashback as he’s interrogated by ‘Detective Robert Nock’, played by Rory Kinnear. Alan’s narration takes us back to his work during World War II, but in an added layer of storytelling, the film jumps even further back in time to his childhood – specifically his formative years in boarding school. It is in these earlier years we discover the catalyst to Alan’s very being and drive, the relationship he forms with a young boy named ‘Christopher’. Played by young British actor Jack Bannon, Christopher befriends a young and often bullied Alan (here played by Alex Lawther), and the two become an inseparable duo. This relationship is then juxtaposed into Alan’s later years and helps to explain why he acts the way he does. The fact that he names his Enigma cracking machine Christopher is truly telling of his feelings and love for his childhood friend, who tragically died leaving a young Alan to carry on by himself.

 

The chronological bookending of Nock and Christopher within the film adds an extra dimension of storytelling which greatly enhances the movie’s appeal and emotional gravitas. This can be seen as Nock does his own detective work on Alan – looking into his background and eventually learning of his critical involvement in World War II. At one point, Nock believes Alan to be some kind of spy only to ultimately realize, along with the audience, that Alan was a true hero and patriot. Looking at Alan’s childhood and how he fell in love with Christopher (whose character name isn’t even revealed until the end of the film) is then equally telling. This kind of double reveal serves its purpose well and only further highlights how under-appreciated Alan’s life was, making his eventual suicide all the more tragic and thought provoking. Because of this intricate mode of storytelling, it is no surprise why The Imitation Game has already been nominated for a total of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay. That, combined with the outstanding cast means that this film is a definite must watch.

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Kyle