Film review:s The Imitation Game | Interstellar

The Imitation Game. Picture: ContributedThe Imitation Game. Picture: Contributed
The Imitation Game. Picture: Contributed
BENEDICT Cumberbatch pretty much owns the rights to supersmart eccentrics with complex lives at the moment, but Alan Turing is not an easy character to play.

The Imitation Game (12A)

Director: Morten Tyldum

Running time: 114 minutes

The Imitation Game. Picture: ContributedThe Imitation Game. Picture: Contributed
The Imitation Game. Picture: Contributed

Star rating: * * *

The British mathematics genius largely responsible for cracking the Enigma codes used by the Germans in the Second World War, he saved millions of Allied lives and took the first steps towards creating modern computers. However, he also had many characteristics that have become clichés whenever scientists are dramatised – social awkwardness, run-ins with uncomprehending bureaucrats, and a deep focus on scientific problem-solving, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

Graham Moore’s script for The Imitation Game never quite solves this equation, and the result is a prestigious Sunday teatime biopic with brittle wit and great performances propping up flat exposition and a ton of period detail ogling. It’s like Downton Abbey or The King’s Speech, with added calculus.

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It’s not a bad film, but it’s certainly a timid one, with Headhunters’ Morten Tyldum steering a sturdy path through several key periods in Turing’s life, beginning in the 1950s when Turing is robbed, drawing the attention of a dogged local detective (Rory Kinnear) who wants to know why Mr Turing is so dismissive of being burgled, and is even more intrigued when he discovers this notable scientist’s government file is missing its contents. Back in the 1920s, young Turing is already exhibiting the obsessive compulsive behaviour that will make him a bullied outsider, but he also develops a deeply influential crush on Christopher, a fellow student, who introduces him to codes and ciphers as a means of exchanging private messages.

The real focus here is Turing’s war years, when he arrives at Bletchley Park as a rising mathematical star, sufficiently confident of his own gifts to challenge and alienate the crusty admiral (Charles Dance) who interviews him for a place on a code-breaking team. Turing fits into the War Office’s collection of chess champions (Matthew Goode) and puzzle-solvers (Matthew Beard, Allen Leech) like a frog in a tank of koi carp, partly because he is candid to the point of tactlessness, but also because he is gay and frustrated by the code of social conduct that requires him to encrypt his life. At one point his only friend is a bright young crossword puzzle geek (Keira Knightley), who is also constrained by social expectations, but can teach Turing how to charm or at least engage with other people so that he can get what he needs from them.

Cumberbatch is terrific at filling in the emotional gaps here, especially since his sexual activity is primly kept off screen. Mind you, when he dedicates himself to building a computer the size of a supermodel’s wardrobe, complete with rotating discs, lights and conspicuous knobs, it hardly takes a world-class codebreaker to work out why he names it Christopher.

Other narrative beats here could also have been designed by computer, including the frequent shoehorning of the film’s cumbersome maxim that “sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine.” The Imitation Game is well-acted and well-crafted but it lacks both Turing’s daring, and his singularity of mind.

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

Interstellar (12A)

Star rating: * * *

I FEEL director Christopher Nolan and I should be friends. After all, we both dig spectacular blockbusters with a bit of ambition to them, mourn the way digital effects have supplanted craftsmanship, and love Michael Caine. We may have to differ over Interstellar, however, which Chris treats as a profound meditation on juggling our life/work balance, but I found to be an unsatisfying blend of Gravity, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and The Collected Poems Of Dylan Thomas.

Interstellar tests not only the boundaries of space and time, but also your inclination to hear movie stars reciting Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. A future Earth is running out of gas, forcing Nasa to approach former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to pilot a craft to a wormhole near Saturn, in the hope of finding a new planet, where mankind can decamp and start anew.

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The snag is that this means leaving behind his tempestuous daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy, then Jessica Chastain) and more acquiescent son Tom (Timothée Chalamet, then Casey Affleck). He may not return for years – if at all – and it speaks volumes, especially in a film that trundles on for three hours, that Cooper ditches these kids in three seconds flat to fly off with a marmish Amelia (Anne Hathaway), two grim-faced scientists (David Gyasi and Wes Bentley) and a sarcastic robot whose ergonomic design could have Terence Conran wolfwhistling in admiration.

Siobhan Synnot

On general release

The Drop (15)

Star rating: * * * *

Michaël R Roskam’s New York story sounds familiar: two lowlifes are under pressure from the Russian gangsters who use their bar as a money drop. Yet there’s much to savour here. For a start, the film features James Gandolfini, making his last appearance on screen, as Marv, a former quite-big shot now panicked by a late-night robbery on his bar, with thieves making off with mob money. However, this is really a showcase for Tom Hardy as the soft, shambling bar dogsbody who tends to keep his head down, but finds himself drawn out by an abandoned pit bull puppy he finds in a bin, and for the tense, timid neighbour (Noomi Rapace) who warily helps him look after it. A slightly artful but satisfying character piece.

On general release from Friday

Leviathan (15)

Star rating: * * *

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Russian writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev won best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival with his political satire on Russian greed and corruption. To western eyes, the battle between an unemployed handyman and the local mayor who wants to take over his home through compulsory purchase seems a little obvious, but the pitiless way Zvyagintsev metes out punishments to all is savage.

Glasgow Film Theatre until Thursday; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, until 20 November

Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! (U)

Star rating: *

Kicking off the Christmas movie season is another sequel to Debbie Isitt’s string of barely scripted school pantos. This one involves Martin Clunes, Catherine Tate, wooden child actors, donkey poo and Marc Wootton’s increasingly sinister manchild, Mr Poppy.

Ho-ho-hos are in such short supply that no child, however naughty, deserves to be left watching this.

On general release from Friday