Near outstanding in its biopic genre, this tale based on the true life of Alan Turing is headed by a faultless performance from man of the moment Benedict Cumberbatch, and if nothing else, this movie sheds light on the story of a British figure a lot of people may know nothing about. The setting, look and substance work in cohorts to clearly mark this film as an Oscar contender, even if I do feel some aspects stopped it being as excellent as possible.
During WW2, Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) and his team at Bletchley Park are looking for top quality code breakers in the rush against time and loss, facing the onslaught of the Germans and their apparent impossible to break Enigma machine. Mathematician, computer scientist and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets the job and with a crack team including Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) he struggles to prove his work right and keep an inner secret hidden.
I rather liked the non linear pattern this film displays. We start with a later Turing and from some moodier cell shots and narration we head back along his timeline. The film follows this suit and jumps back and forth between Alan’s time at school, his Bletchley days and his arrest in 1952. This style never feels scatter-shot and it makes the film far more interesting and different than a bland telling from start to finish. It keeps his tale fresh and parts of his life crash into later or earlier versions and work really well.
More than anything, I would recommend this film for the fascinating information it sheds on someone I knew next to nothing about. Honestly, Alan Turing is incredible and what he did was a heroic thing, with his team and his smart mind he saved millions of lives during World War 2 and the facts credited near the finale of the film really hit home what a tormented genius he was. It’s obviously a sad movie, what with Turing’s sexual orientation and the period he was alive in, prosecuting anyone who felt that way. Luckily, as it so easily could have, it never feels contrived or overly sentimental to garner Academy award attention, it fits perfectly with his fragile yet determined state to get his machine running.
It’s getting superb reviews and though I agree quite a lot, there are some fiddly moments that took me out of completely loving the film. The initial narrating works but then subsequent narrations start feeling like cliched biopic elements and having it like Turing is talking to the audience doesn’t feel overly right…I thought. Some moments of his life feel rushed, once the machine hits the jackpot it becomes very quick in the consequence of their actions. Also, his later life problems of medication and arrest feel glossed over, literally getting screen time for the last ten minutes or so. There are three main points to this film, the younger school days, Enigma days and persecution but the latter doesn’t get much of a spotlight serving only as a way for Turing to oddly spill his story to Rory Kinnear’s Detective Nock. The shots of tanks, planes or submarines look to polished with CGI that they don’t fit. I don’t think they were needed as the story of Turing is good enough, we’ve seen how bad the war looked and the grainy real documented shots of WW2 used do more than enough without adding extra effects.
Benedict Cumberbatch is magnificent. I must admit, in the dizzying amount of things he’s recently in or lined up to do, I was getting worried I’d grow tired of him being everywhere, but for now at least he’s safe. Alan Turing is a brave and intelligent man with more than enough grit for Cumberbatch to get his teeth into and boy does he ever. One scene as he faces his named machine at his home is a breakdown that really pushes you to the watery eye possibility. Keira Knightley is a good sidelined leading lady, she’s interesting to a degree but a tad wishy washy. The rest of the cast from Mark Strong through to Matthew Goode are a great ensemble that realise their characters while never distracting from the main event of Benedict’s Alan Turing.
A thoroughly thoughtful and smart film with one of the acting roles of the year. It may not be as daring as it could have been and certain moments felt lost in amongst it all but it cannot be said that this film does not inform and thrill.