Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Imitation Game

     Alan Turing is obsessive compulsive, unapproachable, haughty, and the genius that England needs to win the war. With his brilliant mind, he will design a machine that will decode Enigma, and allow English intelligence to intercept German messages. But in order to do this, he must not only learn to cooperate with people whom he esteems to be so decidedly inferior, but he must hide a fact about himself that could cost him everything. 

     The Imitation Game is a thoroughly well-made movie, excellently capturing the social, governmental, and technological confinements of the era. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing with indisputable perfection and maddening precision. His emotional detachment from humans in general is simultaneously entertaining and frustrating as he struggles to communicate, refuses social interaction unless absolutely necessary, and staunchly insists on being irritatingly literal. All of this creates a character who seems very real and defined, but these same characteristics make him exceptionally difficult to identify with as the protagonist of the story. Throughout, as Turing's colleagues sigh or rage in frustration, I more frequently found myself on their side, than on the side of Turing.

     The film-makers try to offset Turing's lack of likability and complete social awkwardness by surrounding him with more attractive and socially savvy people, particularly within the most prominent supporting cast. For the most part, this works onscreen. However, a little bit of background reading on my part revealed that relatives of the real-life Turing described the real Joan Clarke, portrayed by Kiera Knightley, as being exceptionally plain. It may be one of the few times ever that a more plain and homely actress could actually play a notable role (other than "ugly soccer mom", "evil stepsister", etc.), but it goes to Kiera Knightley. I personally think that was probably a sorely missed opportunity for talented ladies like Sally Hawkins or Ruth Wilson. Even a frumped up Kiera Knightley fails to come off as the type of woman who would marry a gay man because she might not get a better offer.

     While The Imitation Game executes some elements excellently, it fell disappointingly short in other areas. By the time the movie was over, I was left wanting more emotionally and dramatically. Towards the end of the movie, more attention is drawn to Turing's persecution as a homosexual, which is an important fact about Turing's life, but it seemed to steer the story off-point somehow. Personally, I felt that juxtaposing Turing's later struggles with the victories and defeats of breaking the enigma code detracted from both sides. Furthermore, the movie missed significant dramatic opportunities. For example, the ethical dilemma of only picking the most important messages to relay, and therefore allowing some to live and others to die, is given one semi-emotional scene and the narration "We played God." The ending title cards briefly mention that the work of the team was not declassified until recent years, leaving all the members of the team to hide their most important work in the years after the war. This same aspect might have been an excellent opportunity onscreen, but once again, glossed over.

     All in all, The Imitation Game is an enjoyable movie, but failed to be the character movie that it so badly tried to be. The movie makes every attempt to make Turing sympathetic while staying true to his character, yet falls short when weighed next to, say, The King's Speech. It would, however, be unfair to leave this review on a negative note, when The Imitation Game succeeds on several other levels. The Imitation Game masterfully draws a technologically savvy audience into the frustration and incomprehensible limitations of archaic machinery, and for a fleeting moment, the audience shares the moment of costly victory when the machine finally works. While connectable character moments are not plentiful, you can't help but feel the weight when the team recognizes for the first time that they must allow an entire ship to be sunk, even though one of their team member's brothers is aboard.

The Imitation Game is certainly an entertaining and interesting movie, just missing something somewhere to bring it to greatness. Yet I can't quite put my finger on it.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

     When Katniss Everdeen sacrificially volunteered for the Hunger Games to save her sister, she could not possibly have foreseen how that simple move would escalate into a nation-wide revolution wherein she herself would become the symbol of rebellion against the oppression of the government. Yet by her will or not, Katniss is the Mockingjay-- the mascot of civil disobedience, and Katniss can finally see that this rebellion is so much larger than what was begun in the Hunger Games, seemingly so long ago.

     Where Mockingjay Part One picks up, Katniss and Finnick, two of the three escapees from the Quarter Quell, are both confined in a facility in District 13 to be treated for post-traumatic stress, and to be protected from the Capital. Katniss wakes up screaming from nightmares of the games, she continually finds herself calling for Peeta, and she finds little comfort in the presence of her mother, sister, or friend Gale. In a way, Mockingjay Part One is a movie all about Katniss's emotions. The movie vacillates from putting Katniss in one situation after another so she can react to it. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does make for rather slow story-telling for the first part of the movie.
Katniss has nightmares. She is upset.
Katniss sees her mom and sister. She is happy.
Katniss meets President Coin. She is mad because they didn't rescue Peeta.
Katniss goes to the ruins of District 12. She is upset.
Katniss sees Peeta on TV. She is upset.
And on it goes.

    Mockingjay Part One works mainly as rising action towards Part Two (which will probably already be released by the time I get this review written), which is fine, but means that Mockingjay Part One only works as part of the larger story, and doesn't stand on its own. Furthermore, because so much focus is placed on Katniss and how she feels, the movie's stellar supporting cast is largely glossed over. Thankfully, there is still enough Effie Trinket to bring some eye-rolling moments to the movie, but not nearly enough Haymitch Abernathy for comic levity. And there's just never enough of Plutarch Heavensbee, who is arguably one of the most interesting characters in the series, and ingeniously portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. To its credit however, the movie needed to introduce and establish new characters, such as President Alma Coin, or Cressida and her film team, so Mockingjay did have a careful line to walk to avoid overcrowding the cast and story, and it really succeeds for the most part. While I might have enjoyed a little more investment in some of the side characters (like Finnick Odair and his own issues with PTSD), it can't be denied that Mockingjay Part One stays unwaveringly on target, even if somewhat ploddingly.

     As previously stated, Mockingjay Part One is, as the title suggests, only part of a bigger story. Therefore, the movie is unquestioningly designed as an installment; a piece that is not meant to feel complete without its predecessors and subsequent Mockingjay Part Two. The ending of Part One certainly sets up what will no doubt be an action-packed and emotionally charged Part Two, which admittedly, I can't wait to see.