THE IMITATION GAME (2014)

December 26, 2014

Imitation Game Greetings again from the darkness. This year’s holiday movie season has presented us with three very different war-based films – each a potential Oscar contender, and each with its own life lesson.  Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (the excellent Headhunters, 2011) brings Andrew Hodges’ biographical book  to the screen in the form of the remarkable and true story of Alan Turing, the man credited by many (including Winston Churchill) for helping win WWII.

Alan Turing was a brilliant mathematician and cryptoanalyst. He was also homosexual. Celebrated for his work in helping Great Britain crack the German’s “Enigma” messages, he was also persecuted (through chemical castration) for his homosexuality. His suicide at age 41 (1954) was the likely result of his “treatment” during an era when such “unacceptable” behavior overshadowed any and all mental genius.

The film utilizes Turing’s 1951 police interrogation by a sympathetic and curious detective (Rory Kinnear) as a framing device for the three significant time periods of his life. We see Turing as a bullied schoolboy (played by Alex Lawther) discovering the early signs of his own brilliance, as well as his first love. Most significantly, we witness Turing’s work with the Hut 8 team at Bletchley Park as they worked on complex code-breaking; and finally we see the remnants of a broken man, bathed in solitude and work, who has no real place in society.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives an astounding performance as Alan Turing. We cannot take our eyes off of him, despite his Asperger’s-type social awkwardness. Cumberbatch manages to expertly capture each extreme emotion that befalls Turing, not the least of which is the frustration of the genius, when lesser minds are unable to follow his vision. Some of the best scenes are of Turing’s confrontations with a Royal Navy Commander (perfectly played by Charles Dance), and of course, the critical moments with the other members of his code-breaking team (including Matthew Goode and Keira Knightley).

There are so many aspects to Turing’s story: his impact on ending the war, how society treats true genius, his isolated childhood and final years, the extreme lack of civil rights for homosexuals of the time, and how his work on “Christopher” led to the development of computers. The second half of the film certainly presents the moral quandary, and the performance of Cumberbatch as a tortured genius overpowers any clichés that might creep in. Alexandre Desplat’s piano and strings score is a nice compliment without ever becoming overbearing, and the use of actual war newsreels adds just enough reminder of what the mission was for this group of geeks (today’s terminology).

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are interested in how brains, not just brawn, can impact a war OR you want to see one of the best performances of the year by an actor in a lead role

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting WWII battlefield reenactments

Watch the trailer:

 

 

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HEADHUNTERS (Hodejegerne, Norway 2011)

May 8, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Based on the novel by Jo Nesbo, this one quickly sets up the main character Roger Brown as someone we neither trust nor necessarily even like. He is a smooth talking recruiter who also steals valuable artwork to (barely) support his luxurious lifestyle, which includes a near-super model girlfriend and modern mansion.  That we remain interested in Roger for 2 hours speaks to the strength and creativity of the story.

The film is based in Norway and director Morten Tyldum seems to have a very wicked sense of humor as he really puts Roger (Aksel Hennie) through some things not even found in the worst fraternity or military hazing. While it can be classified as a very taut thriller, it is also a demented ride that would make the Coen Brothers proud. As a matter of fact, it would surprise me if this one doesn’t get a U.S. remake very soon. The story and characters lend themselves very well to a star vehicle.

However, I don’t wish to sell this version short. It is well done and entertaining in a devilish way. When Roger meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the real fun begins. Many will recognize Coaster-Waldau from “Game of Thrones” and he proves to be a terrific adversary for Roger. Neither are what they seem, and both seem quite pleasant to everyone else. Roger’s girlfriend Diana is played by the beautiful Synnove Macody Lund, and even she brings a nice element of doubt to the story. There is also a nice supporting turn from Julie Olgaard as Lotte.

The tone and twists remind me a bit of the Coen Brothers classic Blood Simple, but this one is even a bit more outrageous as things spin out of control for the characters. Much of the film is a spent in chase mode and that leads to some drama, thrills and chuckles. That’s a pretty nice compliment for any movie.

watch the trailer: