The Imitation Game: The Real Thing 

The best film of 2014

It happens every year, and sometimes the wait feels interminable. We slog through dozens of movies (some of us sit through hundreds) in search of something special: a feature-length motion picture head-and-shoulders above any other. Eventually, it does happen and the sensation is always one of revelation. For me, the moment happened not once but four times, comprising a quartet of films that struck distinctive chords with their explorations of the human condition. In no particular order, they are Boyhood, which arrived unheralded in June and has matured into a critic's favorite; The Theory of Everything, which gave us something to be particularly thankful for in November; Wild, which opens this week in Boise; and The Imitation Game, which opens Christmas Day and is the near-perfect movie of the year. It's an intimate story told against a substantial backdrop, not unlike David Lean classics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago. The Imitation Game connects a true story with a smart script and an even smarter cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch (in the best male performance of 2014), and it reveals something to film-goers who may know little to nothing about the life of Alan Turing, one of the 20th century's most important figures.

The movie opens in post-World War II. Turing's flat in Manchester, England, has just been burglarized.

"I think professor Turing is hiding something," theorizes an inspector.

He has no idea.

The Imitation Game then spins us back to 1931 as Adolf Hitler's radical nationalists are rising to power while lowering themselves to disgraceful means. The secrets begin to mount as Turing, a rail-thin 20-something, is summoned by British military intelligence to a clandestine meeting.

"This war, we're not winning it," Maj. Gen. Sir Stewart Menzies (portrayed by the always great Mark Strong) tells Turing. "If you speak a word of what I'm about to show you, you will be executed for high treason." What the young logician and mathematician is suddenly privy to is Enigma, the now-legendary Nazi code that held the key to stopping Hitler.

"It's beautiful," says Turing. "It's the greatest encryption device in history."

"Mr. Turing, do you know how many die because of it?" asks Menzies.

"I don't," Turing says.

"Three, while we've been having this conversation," responds Menzies, checking his watch. "Oh look, there's another."

"I like solving problems commander," says an overly confident, almost pompous Turing. "Enigma is the most difficult problem in the world."

Turing was correct. The Nazis changed the entire code each day at the stroke of midnight, which meant, for years, attempts to break Enigma had to start from scratch every 24 hours. To solve Enigma, Turing built the world's first computer, melding machinery and logic, famously dubbing his idea "an electrical brain."

"Alan's legacy is all around us," Cumberbatch told Boise Weekly prior to the September premiere of The Imitation Game at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. "Turing is the father of the Computer Age. He's a war hero who helped, along with other brave, quiet, stoic, unconventional heroes who broke the code and ended World War II, some say, two years early. It's estimated that they saved 14 million lives."

Turing's story, however, is much greater than that achievement. Turing was a gay man who was ultimately punished for that by the same British government he helped save.

"He's a gay icon, somebody who was punished, in the cruelest of ironies, when he was prosecuted in the 1950s," said Cumberbatch. "He couldn't ... live life as he chose."

Unlike other festivals, TIFF doesn't hand out a slew of awards for films, save one: the People's Choice Award, voted for by the moviegoers. This year the people chose The Imitation Game. Cumberbatch himself was also the people's choice, taking extra time on the red carpet to pose for scores of photos and selfies.

"This is a fan-led festival. I want to celebrate that by having an actual conversation with them," Cumberbatch said. "Some of them have stood here for ages. They're the people who buy the tickets and follow your work. Spending time with them is a joy."

Cumberbatch took home several honors in 2014: an Emmy Award for his television work in Sherlock; a spot on Time magazine's annual list, "Time 100: The Most Influential People in the World." In 2015, if my hunch is right, he'll take home an Oscar for his portrayal of Turing in The Imitation Game, his best performance to date.

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The Imitation Game
Rated PG-13 · 113 minutes · 2014
Official Site:
Director: Morten Tyldum
Producer: Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman and Graham Moore
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong and Alex Lawther
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