The Imitation Game has all the finer workings of a great motion picture, but what it lacks is a sense of originality. A film that feels inspired by Ron Howard's Best PIcture Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind in feel and character study, The Imitation Game instead often feels like a watered-down approach toward a very important moment in World War II history.
I am sad to say that I was a bit underwhelmed by what many consider to be the "best film of 2014", mainly due to a cliche-riddled script and an unclear sense of what the film truly wants to be. Director Morten Tyldum tries and mostly succeeds in showing us the moments in the life of Alan Turing (a self-professed greatest mathematician in the world) that revolve around his breaking of Nazi Germany's Enigma code during World War II, but muddles it in his attempt to relate the emotional oppression of Turing and his turmoil in living a life as a homosexual.
Early in the film, the movie develops the drama very well with Benedict Cumberbatch's great performance, but toward the end we aren't quite sure if the film is more engrossed in the historical significance of Enigma, or in the conflicts of the man involved in the situation. A stronger balance between the character and the historical event was needed in order for a particular message in the epilogue of the film to not feel completely shoehorned amongst the other more apparent messages involving the importance of breaking the Enigma code.
Despite not giving me the impression of filmmaking greatness and extraordinary achievement (as any potential "Best Picture" should), The Imitation Game does manage to have an effective production design that truly envelops you into the era. Benedict Cumberbatch's performance is equally as impressive, one that draws you in with every seemingly Asperger's-afflicted nuance. The man has one of the most powerful and effective speaking voices in Hollywood, and at times you can hear Smaug from The Hobbit series while he's describing the inner workings of his "digital computer" code-breaking machine to his counterparts.
The other cast members are passable and effective. Keira Knightley somehow managed to get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress despite not really doing anything of powerful significance in the film. Never during the two-hour run time did I feel anybody but Cumberbatch truly stood out. In fact, too many character moments from the other actors are what seem to plague the film in its cliche-riddled script. Most notably is a moment involving the use of the broken Enigma code and a choice to not use the information to prevent an attack on a British freighter from a German u-boat. One of Turing's cohorts mentions that his brother is on the ship about to be attacked, and while making for a dramatic and emotional moment, the whole thing came across as forced for the sake of building a conflict (which is completely understandable in the context of filmmaking, but something about it this time felt false and didn't draw me in to the difficult moment the way it should have).
The casting of Charles Dance as Commander Deniston (the man overseeing the Enigma code-breaking project) for example, literally feels like director Tyldum said, "Just channel everything you brought to the table from your role as Tywin in Game of Thrones, but here's a military uniform instead of armor."
All in all, The Imitation Game is a "good" film, but not a great one. When Keira Knightley's Joan Clarke tries to console Alan Turing that his achievement in breaking the code was THE most important thing to win the war, I couldn't help but feel like I've heard the EXACT SAME THING told to countless other characters from different movies and television shows of the era, and it made me wonder if the film could have SHOWN us more significance of what he did rather than telling us.
Despite using too many cliches to amp up the drama, the film is still thoroughly entertaining. Even when knowing the outcome of Turing's venture, I was still enticed by how it happened, even if all the conflicts along the way appeared contrived and at times forced. The entire cast is effective, as is the production design and look of the film and its interpretation of the era, but the film didn't do anything to keep me from thinking that I've seen this all before.