He comes across as a prickly sort of fellow — arrogant and self-assured. “You need me more than I need you,” he says at a job interview with British Commander Denniston (Charles Dance).
The “he” I’m referring to is Alan Turing, the man accredited for cracking the secret Nazi decoder machine, Enigma. Or rather, Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of him in Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s BAFTA-nominated biopic, “The Imitation Game.”
The screenplay — written by Graham Moore based on Andrew Hodges’ biography — plays out like a fragmented puzzle, cutting back and forth between a 23-year time span (1928 – 1951). It’s reminiscent to other spy films like “J. Edgar” (2011), “The Good Shepherd” (2006) and “A Beautiful Mind” (2001).
When we first meet Professor Turing, he’s sitting in a Manchester police station. The year is 1951. But while it might seem like Cumberbatch’s Turing is a reprise of his role in the popular BBC television series “Sherlock,” Scotland Yard is nowhere in sight.
The man questioning Turing is Detective Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear from “Broken” and “Skyfall”), our vehicle into this story. He’s questioning Turing because he had reported a break-in where nothing was stolen.
What begins like an episode of “Sherlock” evolves into a spy mystery. Cumberbatch’s hypnotic voice is like a magician’s, begging you to pay attention as he asks the most puzzling question of all: the reason for humanity.
Along for the ride include Britain’s finest cryptographers: Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard), John Cairncross (Allen Leech) and Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley). They’re tasked with nearly impossible odds — to decrypt Nazi radio messages and win World War II.
Despite his prickly personality, Cumberbatch is oddly endearing as Turing. He’s appears autistic with a mild stutter, funny walk and OCD. He’s oblivious to social cues, better at insults than jokes, loves solving puzzles — and in a couple of occasions, he’s been compared to the machine in which he builds and loves. Yet his robotic movements and character flaws are what make him human. He bleeds, he cries, he feels — whether he’s genius inventor Victor Frankenstein or the isolated monster who just wants a friend.
At its core, “The Imitation Game” deals with morality and philosophy — like Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi.” Cumberbatch and Tyldum flesh out an imitation of this man’s life, letting us define whether he’s a hero or criminal; man or machine; or perhaps, something entirely out of the box.
“The Imitation Game” was directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Graham Moore based on Andrew Hodges’ book, “The Imitation Game: Alan Turing, the Enigma.” The film is nominated in the 87th Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Adapted Screenplay.