The Imitation Game | Movie Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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The Imitation Game 

Well-produced true-life tale about World War II code-breakers, in which its main character remains enigmatic

click to enlarge The Imitation Game

Seems like every year around the holidays, Santa (or Father Christmas, if you prefer) delivers one of those sturdy British crowd-pleasers: a period dramedy (often adapted from true events), with tip-top actors, perfectly aged tweeds and a feel-good, lightly inspirational and/or educational vibe. Think: The Iron Lady, The King's Speech.

The package this year —Morten Tyldum's bio-pic about the influential mathematician Alan Turing — is just as prettily wrapped. But once opened, it's not quite as packed as one hoped, and a bit depressing to boot.

During World War II, Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch, mastering a number of vocal and physical tics) is hired to help break "Enigma," a code-generating machine with which the Nazis are sending their strategic commands. Turing is an odd sort to lead a military team — he has no social skills and is secretly gay — but he's undisputedly the best nerd for the job: It's he who correctly realizes it will take another machine — not a human or even a 100 humans — to defeat Enigma.

The egghead thriller narrative is entertaining, as a tea-drinking crew in hand-knit sweaters takes on a tricky bit of German engineering, with the stakes being hundreds of thousands of lives saved. The film is murkier on Turing, whose personal life was marked by depression and presumably a lot of conflicted feelings about his identity. I say presumably, because while the film drops hints and Cumberbatch finely emits a lot of buttoned-up something, Turing's inner life remains unexplored.

Still, it's a fine trip out for the holidays — a mostly solid piece of entertainment, in which you will learn about: the fascinating Enigma project (top secret until only just recently); the man who built an early computer; how technology can leap ahead in ways cultural tolerance cannot; and that the oddly featured Mr. Cumberbatch does make a more interesting leading man than the usual square-jawed set.

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