Review – The Original Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma (“The Imitation Game”)

Them Nazi’s were a bunch of sneaky bastards. Back in WW2, they came up with the Enigma Machine, a means of secret wireless communications between themselves that we could intercept, but couldn’t crack – until a team of mathematicians in England came along and did it. And it was all because of one man named Alan Turing.

Ping-ponging through his life (and based on the true story), we see Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch–fantastic) as a brilliant mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst who’s recruited by the strict and no-nonsense Cdr. Dennison (Charles Dance) of the Government Code and Cypher School with Major Stuart Menzies (Mark Strong) of the fledgling MI6 dept to join a small team to crack the German’s impossible Enigma Code. Turing, who is not only a high-functioning sociopath (think of Sheldon Cooper from TV’s Big Bang Theory, but less lovable), but also a closet homosexual, at a time where being one in England was very illegal.

Three stories bounce back and forth, from Turing’s young school days where he first meets his first love, Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon), to his days at Bletchley Park where he came up with the idea to build a huge machine (the first working computer) to decipher the code, to his future run in with the police for his nocturnal dalliances with another man.

The main crux of the story is where Turing, who does not play well with others, grates on the other team members until he personally goes over the head of Cdr. Dennison to Churchill himself to get his machine built. This vexes the Cdr., but bemuses the Major, who sees greatness in the genius, despite his lack of personality and wit. Also added to team is lovely, but equally brilliant Joan Clarke (Keira Knightly–excellent, as usual) to help with the cyphers and slowly lures Turing out of his shell.

The huge machine (dubbed “Christopher” by Turing) with it’s multi-whirling dials is finally finished, but isn’t going fast enough to decipher the daily codes, since the Germans change their settings every 24 hours. Defeated and running out of time, problems and tempers flair up. There’s a rumor of a Soviet spy going around and Turing even gets engaged to Clarke, just to keep her from leaving the project!

Then in a pub one night, Turing overhears an innocent remark about receiving a code that turns out to be the key to making their computer work. In a blink, England has their own secret weapon: they can now decode the Nazi’s secret communications! But happiness is not in the future for Turing when the British government orders chemical castration for Turing as part of his arrest and sentencing. The ending where Clarke visits what’s left of Turing is a heart-breaking, Oscar-worthy performance for both Cumberbatch and Knightly. I even choked up.

The terrific screenplay by Graham Moore is based on the biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges and, even though it flash-forwards/backs in Turing’s many years, it remains coherent and centered. The script is rich and flavorful and filled with wonderful dialoge that doesn’t condescend like in most “based on true events” movies. Directed by Norwegian Morten Tyldum with a simple and gentle touch, he gives the actors their room to breath and shine.

The story is oh-so very interesting, although personally, I would have liked to have seen more about the inner workings of the Turing computer; how did that thing work? The acting is flawless across the board; Cumberbatch leads the pack with his mesmerizing style, just as he does on the BBC’s Sherlock series The man is simply amazing. Then you got Dance and Strong who are both excellent, and let’s not forget Knightly who’s as cute as she is a powerful actress. This is a damn fine movie and shouldn’t be missed, especially when one is reminded that it was because of Turing that we have our modern computers today and a shortened WW2.

WarGames (1983)

“Shall we play a game”? Say that in a monotone, computer-like voice and everyone knows what movie you’re talking about. Sure, figuring out a computer code is one thing, but what if you’re still in high school and you’ve just accidentally triggered a nuclear war in the process? Can you imagine how long that’s gonna ground you for?

A young Matthew Broderick (two years before Ferris Bueller put him on the map) is high-schooler David Lightman, a whip-smart computer nerd who just wants to electronically break into an internet gaming company and play the hottest new video games. His would-be girlfriend, Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy), is impressed by his skills after he changed her grades by hacking into the schools computer. Nice guy.

But little does he know that his code breaking shenanigans will land him hot water. He’s found an internet “back door” entry into NORAD’s highly classified supercomputer named W.O.P.R., designed to run simulated real-time war games and learn from it’s mistakes. David, thinking it’s just an quirky on-line game, decides to play ‘global thermal-nuclear war’ instead of “a nice game of chess”, as W.O.P.R. verbally suggests.

Faster than you can say, “Let the games begin”, W.O.P.R. starts the ‘game’, and NORAD engineer, Dr. McKittrick (Dabney Coleman) goes nuts, along with a host of others there trying to shut the system down from carrying out the very REAL TIME launch of nuclear missiles! But they can’t because the computer thinks it ‘s creator, Dr. Falken (John Wood), had given the order himself. David is busted by the Feds after he discovers his mistake, and taken to NORAD to try and shut down his programming, but he’s thought to be a Soviet spy! He escapes and, with Jennifer’s help, they find Dr. Falken who reluctantly returns to NORAD to talk to “Joshua”, his programming ‘son’, who’s causing all the problems… and try to stop him with a potentially lethal game of tic-tac-toe!

A wonderful script by Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes, and Walon Green and directed with aplomb by John Badham, this movie has been associated with SO many computer hacking events of the last 20 years. Exciting, funny, and so-very-80’s as this movie is, the premise is very real (more now than ever) about anyone hacking into a government computer and pulling off something like this. But never mind that and the fact you could be dead at any moment by some geek living in a basement in Tarzana who just got computer control of an ICBM somewhere in Nebraska using his Mac, this movie is full of action, suspense, and lotsa fun to see a pre-Ferris Broderick.

In a bit of a wink to the audience, check out the scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Broderick repeats his computer grade-changing scene from this movie.  


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