12/09/2014 05:34 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

Popcorn Preview: The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game (2014)
Cast includes: Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), Keira Knightly (Anna Karenina), Matthew Goode (Belle), Allen Leech (Downton Abbey), Charles Dance (Gosford Park), Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Director: Morten Tyldum (Headhunters)
Genre: Drama | Biography | History (114 minutes)

1951, Manchester, England... police have been called by a neighbor to investigate a possible robbery. "I need a cleaning lady not a bobby," says Alan Turing. He's a professor at Kings, and his home is filled with unusual machines. "There's something suspicious. I think he's hiding something." Going back to London 1939, the news confirms the worst... a state of war with Germany. Parents are putting their children on trains sending them away from London. Turing is heading for Bletchley. His interview with Commander Denniston doesn't go well. Does he speak German? No. He's a mathematician and he's excellent at crossword puzzles. He fails to see why Denniston doesn't want him. He has absolutely no sense of humor, but he does know about Enigma... "You need me a lot more than I need you." The Germans send radio messages about every maneuver... nothing but gibberish unless you can decode them. At Bletchley Radio Factory, they've gotten an Enigma machine, but the settings change daily... "over 150 million-million-million" possible settings. Turing isn't happy being assigned to a team... "They'll slow me down." And to be honest, the team doesn't want to work with him either.

While the team works on decoding, Turing works on diagrams of some sort of machine. Sure, the team has gotten some settings right a few times, but "even a broken clock is right twice a day. I'm designing a machine that will allow us to break every message, everyday, instantly," says Turing. But creating his machine requires £100,000. Reminded that he's nothing more than a "small cog in a large machine," Denniston suggest he "take it up with Churchill." He does, and he gets the go-ahead. As it turns out, getting the money is the easy part. There are many more hurdles, including Turing's own inability to decode ordinary human communication with team members he now needs. In his youth, he was described as an odd duck. As an adult, some of his "differences" are illegal... at least they were at the time.

For a half a century, even the existence of Bletchley Park was classified. These days, we never seem to tire of films about the code-breaking team that shortened the war by 2 years. But in 1951, local police were frustrated at their inability to find out what Turing was hiding. Maybe he isn't a Soviet spy but "he's a poofter," says the lead investigator. Benedict Cumberbatch would be an obvious choice to play the socially inept genius, given his very popular reinvention of Sherlock Holmes. Cumberbatch's Turing is excellent and... to his credit... nothing like his Sherlock. The entire cast is excellent, as is the script and the production. As an artistic achievement, the film doesn't break new ground, but they make excellent use of moviemaking artistry to give us a moving story about an interesting person and a meaningful chapter in history. Sadly, Turing's "differences" proved too high a hurdle to overcome. Nevertheless, Turing is considered the inventor of the first modern-day computer. "Sometimes it's the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine."

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Alan Turing and his WWII work at Bletchley Park, developing the machine that broke the German Enigma code

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Wide Release
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: Decoding German Enigma transmissions
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking

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