So is Cumberbatch up to the challenge? Of course he is, he’s Benedict Cumberbatch. I honestly was concerned he would basically be playing Sherlock in the 1940s, but his performance as Turing is much more than that. He stutters, and pauses in his patterns of speech because his mind is clearly working faster than his mouth can form the words to express what he’s thinking. Turing is a genius, and that comes across loud and clear in Cumberbatch’s performance without seeming overwrought or showy. In a year not nearly as crowded with amazing male performances as last year, he’s a lock for an Oscar nomination.
The large majority of the film focuses on Turing's efforts in cracking the Enigma code, and it breaks down the work he does so the audience can digest it. It admirably goes very deep into why Turing's method was so revolutionary. It details which methods were traditionally used in code-breaking, how exactly Turing’s machine worked, and how the machine and Turing’s intellect came together to finally crack the Enigma code. It also makes the potentially tedious and boring minutia of code-breaking very entertaining to watch. Turing’s personal life, however, takes a back seat. The film doesn’t skirt over Turing's homosexuality exactly, but a real examination of that part of him only makes up one extended scene near the end of the film. There is basically no mention of his larger contributions to modern computers either, save for a footnote at the end.
It’s impossible not to compare The Imitation Game to the other period-set British genius biopic to come out this year: The Theory of Everything, about the life of Stephen Hawking. The two films’ approach to their subjects differs, however. If The Theory of Everything shows us why Stephen hawking is to be admired for the obstacles he's overcome but not necessarily for the work he did—according to the film--The Imitation Game is the opposite. Alan Turing was a genius and an integral part of winning WWII, but the fact that he was gay and took his own life doesn't matter as much. At least, according to the film.
Those are relatively minor issues in an altogether very good movie. Anchored by a fantastic performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game is the way a biopic should be done: exciting, entertaining and very enlightening.