Saturday, 24 January 2015

Best Actor 2014: Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. 

The Imitation Game is an enjoyable enough "prestige biopic" telling of Alan Turing's attempt to break the Nazi Enigma code during World War II.

Benedict Cumberbatch seems a fit for the part being one the current first names in British prestige productions, although I have not seen any of his television work, although I did see him in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy which I feel he's sometimes forgotten in due to that film's remarkable ensemble. I have read that this performance is a variation on his work as Sherlock, but that does not mean a great deal to me since I have not seen Sherlock. I would say it does bare similarities to his work in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy simply because in both films he plays men working for the British government who must hide the fact that they are homosexuals. The similarities mostly end there because The Imitation Game is a different kind of film than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, not really subject matter they are both technically spy thrillers, but in terms of tone and style. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in a way embraces the double cross world and presents it in its gruesome and disheartening details, The Imitation Game on the other hand attempts to be inspiring while telling this sort of tale.

Benedict Cumberbatch's performance very much matches of the style of the film in his portrayal of Alan Turing. In the scenes set earliest chronologically, with Cumberbatch in the role, we meet Turing as he joins the top secret code breaking organization. Alan Turing as written in the film seems to have Asperger sydrome, and Cumberbatch's performance goes along fully with this idea. Cumberbatch presents Turing in the early scenes as a man who is somewhat in a world of his own in terms of the way he speaks to other people. Cumberbatch delivers his lines in always a somewhat out synch way as though Turing has difficulty in merely conducting a conversation with another person. In the same way Cumberbatch always positions himself physically in a somewhat awkward fashion. He always seems to face in the wrong direction and not to make the right kind of eye contact. Cumberbatch's method here is quite obvious, but that's not always problem when here that's actually purposeful. Most importantly though Cumberbatch at least is consistent and makes it at least feel natural to what he does with Turing in this section of the film.

A more serious version of Turing story, this is not a comedy but does often keep a lighthearted tone, Cumberbatch's approach might not have worked. His performance though matches the tone the film takes with the character in the war scenes. The thing is Turing's social awkwardness is often used in a very particular way which is perhaps questionable but again it works for the film. Cumberbatch does not close we the audience away from Turing while Turing technically is closed off from the other characters in some way. Cumberbatch instead makes the whole social awkwardness in Turing to be an endearing quality. One of the reasons is Cumberbatch often does give a dead pan sort of comic performance as Turing. Cumberbatch actually has some excellent timing in being quietly humorous such as in the scene where Turing causes a whole fuss over the other men failing to comprehend how exactly to ask him a question about lunch. He also succeeds in making the action involved with the failure of telling a joke to get along with the other men enjoyable all in itself rather than the actual joke.

I suppose one of Cumberbatch's great accomplishments is when we kinda are in his side when he is unemphatic when he dismisses to co-workers when put in charge. One of the reasons being is Cumberbatch is quite great in exuding the necessary genius to play Turing. It's hard to be against Turing's decisions simply because Cumberbatch makes it so Turing is right, even though we don't exactly see this for some time during the film. Cumberbatch though brings the needed earnestness into every one of Turing's speeches about how he's right. Although technically insufferable, he never feels as such because Cumberbatch is always very clever in how he makes Turing likable while being convincing in his portrayal of the genius of the man. When there comes the eventual eureka moment where Turing figures exactly how to break the code utilizing the machine he constructed, Cumberbatch brings the needed passion and sells it to its inspirational fullest. The material is very much constructed in a certain way, and Cumberbatch's performance works well in that specific framework of the film.

Now there are scenes that are out of the film about the exceptional work of one man during tumultuous times. These are the scenes where Turing is being interrogated due to indecency charges after he has been caught engaging in homosexual behavior. These scenes actually seem like a major tonal shift as these actually depict a tragic story of the genius we met before having his life destroyed due the discrimination laws against homosexuals at the time in Britain. Cumberbatch's performance actually is quite different as well in that he rids himself of any of the lighter qualities of the performance, and instead effectively presents Turing as a man haunted by his past. Cumberbatch deserves a great deal of credit that he reflects the differing tones without compromising either portrayal. Cumberbatch is kinda of two different types of films, but he manages to bridge the gap fairly well with his performance. He shifts just enough to still seem plausible as both versions of Turing, and succeeds by suggesting that this darker Turing perhaps resulted from the difficult and sometimes problematic work he had to do during the war.

The film does kinda tip toe around Turing's eventual suicide, but we are given one scene where we see what lead Turing to this. Turing is forced to undergo a chemical castration, and Cumberbatch is terrific in his one scene where he expresses both the physical and mental deterioration of Turing. It may again be a skip around seemingly pivotal moments but Cumberbatch matches the jump with his work. Of course the film challenges him all the more because it basically asks him to still leave Turing on an uplifting note even though the man is obviously going to commit suicide soon. Well Cumberbatch is moving in portraying the emotional devastation in Turing. I will say he does do his very best to bring a glint of hope at the end of the scene, as he shows Turing looks at his past with pride rather than some pity, although I won't say he can fully save the idea of the scene since the real situation make it so the inspirational qualities in the scenes are still a bit forced. The scene is a great example of what Cumberbatch accomplishes into the role which is to give a compelling and convincing portrayal of Turing even as the film makes some questionable choices regarding his character.

13 comments:

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Honestly, this movie bothers me the more I think about it. It didn't even have the balls to show him in any sort of relationship in his adult life, and then tried to have its "gay martyr" cake and eat it too. Plus the filmmaking is so pedestrian. I mean, those fucking CGI missiles. Or the fact that the production design was so obviously on a sound stage.

But I guess Cumberbatch does well even if he is a little too actory for my tastes.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Exactly my thoughts on him. I'm not sure whether I'll give him a 4.5 or 4 now, leaning more towards the former.

Michael McCarthy said...

What I liked about this was he played a completely different type of arrogant genius than he did in Sherlock.

What did you think of Knightley in her last scene? I know you had problems with her performance but I thought she was pitch perfect in that scene.

Anonymous said...

I hope you liked Keira a bit more on a rewatch, she was great for me.

luke higham said...

The Brit in me appreciated the film a bit more than most, I thought Cumberbatch was great and would be a very strong 4.5 for me.

luke higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Cumberbatch & Freeman in Sherlock.

Matt Mustin said...

Luke: He spent the first part of this review explaining that he hasn't seen it.

luke higham said...

Matt Mustin: I made the comment just in case because he wrote have instead of haven't seen Sherlock, but I'm not expecting him to have done so.

Louis Morgan said...

Michael McCarthy: I'd move her up to a 3 as I did like here there as well as found her to be at least adequate for the majority of her performance, I still found her to be more than inadequate in her second to last scene though.

Luke: Typo.


On a side note, I have to say I'm glad to see PGA made the right choice.

mrripley said...

His scenes with Keira were the best and she outacted him,what did you think of her.

Anonymous said...

I've just seen The Babadook and I just loved it. Also, Essie Davis gives an amazing performance.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone seen Under the Skin? I've heard Scarlett Johansson is great in it.

Michael McCarthy said...

I've seen it, she's good but I really think it's more of a director's film.