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Once Upon A Time there was a Great War, which the modern world called The War To End All Wars. Then, just as in the movies, there was a sequel. The one historical nugget, revealed early on in The Imitation Game, is one that yours Cranky was never taught in school. While the English Channel provided no protection from German bombers it did pretty much protect the United Kingdom from invasion. That is no protection if your people are slowly starving to death. That is not the story told in this film but it is a part of . . .
IN SHORT: One of the Best of the Year. [Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking. 114 minutes]
Cryptologists in Nazi Germany built a box, called Enigma, that encoded messages using a simple letter substitution that worked in 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 ways. They transmitted messages, via radio telegraphy, without any kind of protection. Every day, British code-breakers would receive the messages and be able to do nothing but scratch their heads. Breaking the code, was considered a mathematical problem by the Brits, which is how we are introduced to one Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a genius greatly lacking in basic social skills. No, not in the Jim Carrey sense; Turing has no peer and he knows it and doesn't much care what you think. Hired by the British military to try to crack the code -- unknown to the Germans is that the Brits are in posession of an Enigma box -- Turing pisses off his soon to be commanding officer Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) during the job interview and disassociates himself with the rest of the Top Secret Staff, led by Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), a man about town, chess champion, putz. Someone has got to go and, well, the WWII equivalent of the internet does wonders to clear out the chaff . . .
That means Turing sends a letter to the most powerful man in the United Kingdom (rhymes with "Winston Churchill" who is not a member of the cast) and the result is gives Turing free reign to hire a new staff and build a ridiculously expensive machine of his own design. Part of Turing's team was, perhaps, the one woman in this world who was smarter than he. Her name is Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley). Proven to be a better mathematician than Turing, she is hidden away in the secretarial pool, sneaked into the main "situation room" at night to review the day's work, correct and offer input. Yes, of course, love blooms between the two. Not for reasons you'd expect.
As for the machine that is developed, it is what we now call it a "computer." Turing nicknames it "Christopher," after a childhood friend who was more important to Turing than that friend would ever know. That storyline we aren't going to reveal. As for the machine, Turing will spend the rest of his life developing and improving upon it.
In 1951, in sequences that eventually frame the wartime story, a closeted homosexual professor at Britain's University of Manchester gets the crap kicked out of him, and his house ransacked. A detective named Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear) investigates the crime, even though the victim refuses to cooperate or press charges. You see, being gay in 1950s Britain was a criminal offense and, even for the man who saved the British Empire, love in action means jail time. Once behind bars, he spills the beans about the one story he is sworn to secrecy not to tell; the greatest secret of the Empire. How he cracked the Enigma Code. We've given you three male actors to choose from if you really don't want to watch one of the year's best on a big screen.
This is where The Imitation Game becomes either an Important Film about Intolerance in Times Barely Gone By or it becomes another self important movie that tries its damndest to balance two radically different stories. We get a whole messa films like this at Awards-wannabe Times. We've already seen two (this week), so forgive the slight. We'd love to be cheering for the film described in that first sentence but director Morten Tyldum construction left us feeling cynical. Which is a terrible way to feel once you see the afterward that ends the film, which you will see because the wartime story alone is well worth the price of a ticket. If you've been following this site for any substantial length of time, you already have an opinion as to whether we know what we are talking about.
That written, as we have done for the last 20 years, every Oscar-wannabee film that has a reason to want that statue gets the same dollar rating from this site.. We lay out which of these specially rated films is the "best" on Christmas Day.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Imitation Game, he would have paid . . .
Cumberbatch and Knightley will both get nominations for Best acting as the various critics groups and Academies start rolling out their end-of-year lists. That includes ours, though one of the pair has already been outperformed by another performance. As we write, it's still early in the battle.
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