The awards season is on, thanks to the sometimes funny, but mostly tedious, Golden Globes awards on Sunday (not to mention to completely unfunny and exceptionally tedious People’s Choice Awards). Maybe it is time for Tina and Amy to take a break – and Allison Janney to refuse future invitations to host (like there will be many more of THOSE).
In any case, one of those awards – Best Actor in a Drama, which was won by Eddie Redmayne for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in ‘The Theory of Everything” – illustrates what I believe is a sad truth of the awards process: that imitation is more highly valued than creation. In my humble opinion, Benedict Cumberbatch should have won for his creation of the character of Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game” (about which I will say much more momentarily). But Redmayne’s spooky real imitation of Hawking won the day in a lesser film and a lesser job of real acting. It is just too easy – and lazy – for the voters to give an award to someone whose work they can readily identify by comparing it to the real life character in question. It is much more difficult to evaluate and vote for an actor who creates a complex, nuanced character – whether fictional or real – about whom they have little direct, comparative information – no pictures, film, TV interviews, etc. And so they take the easy way out and vote for outstanding imitation versus outstanding creation. Don’t miss my point – Redmayne was outstanding. But it just doesn’t require as much work to imitate as to create.
Which leads to the film itself. “The Imitation Game” is the story of the English code-breaking team that cracked the German Enigma code in World War II, which helped to dramatically shorten the war, defeat the Nazi’s and save an estimated 12 million lives. At the core of this team was Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician and engineer who is generally conceded to be the ‘father of modern computing’ for his creation of the ‘Turing Machine’ – the forerunner of today’s computers. But Turing was a ‘difficult’ person: a genius who did not suffer fools – or other geniuses – lightly and whose belief in his own theories and concepts was absolute; while hiding a personal secret that could – and eventually did – destroy his career and his life.
Presented in a flashback/flashforward/present day format, the movie provides an outstanding balance of character study of Turing and gripping suspense as the code breakers race the clock to break Enigma before the Germans break the Allies with aerial bombing, U-boat raids and ground attacks in Europe. An overarching theme, which is played out across each of the time periods, is Turing’s homosexuality and its impact on his life and work (homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1961, punishable by imprisonment or hormonal therapy). In the end, one of world’s most brilliant scientists, and the key figure in helping to win WWII, committed suicide that most acknowledge was due to his persecution for homosexuality.
“The Imitation Game” is an excellent film on many levels. The acting is superb, starting of course with Cumberbatch, but with stellar performances by Kiera Knightly as Joan Clarke, the only female member of the code-breaking team; Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander; Charles Dance as the military overseer of the project; and Mark Strong as MI6 spymaster Stewart Menzies. One of the things that makes this film so good is the ensemble cast, and how Cumberbatch – clearly the leading character – can periodically recede into the background and allow his peers to perform. This balance is what keeps the movie from being a ‘one-hander’, which would be one of my criticisms of “Theory of Everything”.
In summary, “The Imitation Game” is what a prominent talk show host would call a ‘meat sandwich’ – a film that works on so many levels that is constantly surprises and delights. From storyline, to acting, to suspense, to history, to beautiful sets and atmospheric music, there is something here for everyone. It is, in my opinion, the most complete film of the year and a worthy contender for Best Picture. “Boyhood” may be the favorite; this is the better, more complete film.