Code-breakers go up against the Germans in ‘The Imitation Game’

As in any conflict, not all the battles are fought on the front lines, and wars often are affected by what is going on in places where bullets and bombs are far away.

“The Imitation Game” is an intriguing look at how England dealt with trying to decode the many German military transmissions that used the Enigma code, a complex method of encrypting them so that any interceptions of the messages virtually were undecipherable. Things were dire in Europe as the Nazis easily could communicate their plans and were sweeping across the continent, overtaking countries at an alarming rate.

In England, a team of brilliant mathematicians and cryptanalysts was being put together to decode the messages. One man who was not called but volunteered his services was Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). As job interviews go, Turing’s lacked tact but was brutally honest.

“You need me more than I need you,” he informed Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), whose working relationship with Turing would be strained at best. Turing, however, had an ally in Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), a high-ranking intelligence official who had earned the confidence of Winston Churchill. Thus Denniston had to chomp at the bit because not only was Turing drafted to work as a decoder but per Churchill’s decree was put in charge of the program.

“The Imitation Game,” directed by Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”) and adapted for the screen by Graham Moore from the book by Andrew Hodges, is not a linear presentation. It jumps around in time to focus on three different phases of Turing’s life. There are scenes of his early teenage years when as a brilliant student but social outcast the young Turing (Alex Lawther) is befriended by a classmate, Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon). Christopher not only introduces Turing to cryptology but also triggers homosexual feelings in the teenager.

Another aspect of Turing’s life that is explored is in the early 1950s when his home is burglarized and police grow suspicious when he insists there is no need to investigate. Not willing to drop the case, Det. Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear), presses on with the investigation, revealing a part of Turing’s private life that was against the law at the time.

The movie mostly centers around Turing and his team’s seemingly insurmountable task of trying to discover the key to breaking the code among 150 million million possibilities — in only a 24-hour period because each new day the key was changed.

Turing concludes that a machine needs to be designed that could wade through all the possibilities at a much faster rate, and he is able to secure funding to build it.

“The Imitation Game” also zeroes in on Turing’s personality and his shaky relationships. Despite being in charge, Turing fails at gaining the respect of his colleagues, especially Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode from “Stoker”). Luckily for Turing, one of the people who tested to be brilliant enough to be on the team is Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who serves as a bridge between Turing and his team.

Turing and Joan develop an unusual relationship, growing to care for each other without any physical attraction. When things unravel between the two, Joan proves to be the much more mature and perceptive one.

Cumberbatch likely will be an Academy Award nominee for his performance. He presents Turing as the complex man he was. Turing was brilliant, arrogant, unwittingly funny and deeply compassionate about his work. Even when the code is finally broken, it is Turing’s Spock-like logic, devoid of emotional considerations, that leads to the wrenching decisions that had to be made by the English military brass, essentially having to respond to one threat while allowing others to go unheeded as part of the wartime strategy.

The tragedy of Turing’s life was that his contribution to the war effort was not made known to the public until nearly 60 years after his death by suicide. Aside from that, his private life put him at odds with English law, making him even more of an outcast.

As portrayed by Cumberbatch, Turing was not a warm person, someone people would want to hang out with. He realized his intellectual superiority and was not shy about expressing it. He was a lonely man whose primary function of his relationships, aside from the private ones (which are hinted as being devoid of any emotional bonds), was to get the job done no matter how bad feelings were hurt. As cold as this was, it proved to be a valuable commodity when dealing with the horrifying threats of Nazi conquests.

WAHLBERG PRESENTS A CRUMBLING LIFE IN ‘THE GAMBLER’

The pressing problem with “The Gambler” is that the main character, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), does not seem to care much about his destructive path, so why should anyone else?

A remake of the 1974 movie of the same name that starred James Caan, “The Gambler” is the study of wasted potential, of a life degraded by an insatiable desire to beat the odds despite the enormous setbacks.

Bennett is a professor of literature and the author of a modest-selling novel. But he is living two lives. By day he teaches college kids — although he concedes his students probably will gain nothing from his class other than the necessary credits for a degree. By night he engages in big-stakes gambling — at which he is not very good.

He racks up sizable debts to a couple of nasty loan sharks: Mister Lee (Alvin Ing) and Neville Baraka (Mark Kenneth Williams), and has a week to come up with money numbering in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As played by Wahlberg, from the script by William Monahan based on James Toback’s 1974 screenplay, Bennett is self-centered and self-loathing and very exasperating. Despite being alienated from his wealthy mother Roberta (Jessica Lange), she gives him the money to repay his loans. Does he seize the opportunity to get out of hot water?

No spoilers here.

There are a couple of positive aspects of “The Gambler.” In the classroom scenes, Wahlberg shows he can do more than physical, action roles, managing to keep the students off balance and adeptly turning the lectures into his own self-exploration.

Also a highlight is John Goodman as Frank, a huge, menacing loan shark with a shaved head and a darkly humorous but deadly philosophy on business and life. It is yet another set of scene-stealing performances by Goodman.

Wasted is Brie Larson as Amy Phillips, one of Bennett’s promising students who inexplicably falls for him even though in her job as a cocktail waitress she is aware of his destructive gambling habit.

Ultimately, “The Gambler” is all about Bennett, and the frustration therein of waiting for this man to somehow redeem himself, to do something he certainly could be resourceful enough to pull off, if only he cared. Even in the end, the audience is left with the suspicion that despite apparently seeing the light, Bennett will not peel off the dangerous path he has taken.

 

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