The Imitation Game


Beauty and the Beastly

Beauty and the Beastly

(2014) Biographical Drama (Weinstein) Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Waddington, Ilan Goodman, Jack Tarlton, Alex Lawther, Jack Bannon, Tuppence Middleton, Victoria Wicks. Directed by Morten Tyldum

During World War II, one of the crucial technological breakthroughs made by Nazi Germany was the development of Enigma, a virtually unbreakable code using an ingenious machine whose code key changed daily. The Germans did virtually all their communicating with it and were able for that day to relay orders from command to the fronts quickly and efficiently. The Allies found that breaking that code would be the key to winning the war – and the code was considered unbreakable.

British Intelligence, in the person of Commander Denniston (Dance) and the mysterious Stuart Menzies (Strong) of the nascent MI-6 are looking for the best and the brightest cryptographers to break the code. Currently their team based in Bletchley Park is led by Hugh Alexander (Goode) has had no success and at midnight each day all their work comes to naught as the Germans change the code key.

Into this mix they bring Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) , a brilliant mathematician and cryptographer. He is also arrogant and a social misfit, unable to communicate with even the barest cordiality with his team. He dreams up a machine that can calculate combinations of letters and numbers faster than even the human brain, one that can go through an infinite number of calculations without stopping in the course of a day. Unfortunately, it proves expensive and cumbersome and is yielding no results. Denniston is eager to shut the project down but Alexander surprisingly stands up for Turing with whom he has butted heads endlessly.

Turing needs more help and he gets it in a comely young woman named Joan Clarke (Knightley). Brilliant in her own right and intellectually Turing’s equal in many ways, she is held back because she’s got breasts and apparently those cumbersome things prevent her from thinking clearly and concisely because….well, I don’t get it but it has to do with hormones and…I don’t know, because men have been idiots for a very long time?

In any case the team has to weather the frustration of knowing that every day they don’t solve the code that thousands of Allied soldiers die. Denniston is completely out of patience and has given the team a hard deadline to get results. Menzies also lets Turing know that someone on his team is funneling information to the Soviets. Finally there’s the awful realization that even if they do solve the code, they have to make sure the Germans don’t guess that they’ve broken it – otherwise they’ll just improve their machine and then the Allies will be back to square one, which means they’ll have to decide which information to act on – which also means letting people die when they might possibly have saved them, which leads to tragic consequences for one member of the team.

Beyond that Alan has a secret of his own – he likes boys and not just in a fraternal way. Homosexuality is illegal in Britain and if word got out that Turing is one it will be all the ammunition Denniston needs to get rid of Turing. Actually, there is one thing Turing likes more than boys – that’s Christopher, the creation he has built to crack the code and Christopher is, in a very large part, the forerunner of modern computers.

The real Turing would be credited by no less than Winston Churchill for winning the war, but nobody knew the extent of his involvement until just 20 years ago when some wartime secrets were declassified. In fact that Enigma had been broken at all was a very closely guarded secret that Turing himself didn’t even take credit for and when asked, he would say he worked in a radio factory during the war. But far from being grateful for his service in saving millions of British lives, he was convicted of being a homosexual and disgraced, forced to take chemical castration treatments. A year after his treatments were completed, he died of cyanide poisoning, ruled a suicide although there are those who think that the poisoning may have been accidental.

This is the first English-language film for Norwegian director Tyldum (Headhunters) and it’s already netted him praise and award nominations including the DGA award. He shows a very good eye, juxtaposing scenes in the bucolic Bletchley Park campus with the spartan lab facilities filled with all sorts of electrical gear.

Tyldum is fortunate in his casting as well, with Cumberbatch turning in a performance that has already garnered major award recognition and is likely to be bringing in an Oscar nomination later this week. It is certainly one of the most outstanding performances of the year. Turing portrayed here is awkward and unlikable, honest and blunt to the point of rudeness. He is supreme in his knowledge that he is right and doesn’t like to waste time arguing the point. He knows he has a momentous task ahead of him and while outwardly at times he may seem to look at it as a game, a kind of brain teaser, there are moments when he lets slip that he is fully aware it is anything but. He is tormented and dreadfully unhappy, brilliant but alone in his brilliance. He also has a tender heart which breaks easily. The only person he can truly confide in is Joan and even in her case he can’t tell her everything.

Cumberbatch isn’t alone. Knightley turns in another sterling performance as the brilliant but repressed Joan, whose parents discourage even the hint of impropriety but she yearns to do something that makes a difference and has the intellect to do it, but is unable to exercise it because of attitudes towards women at the time. Only Turing gives her the opportunity to flower and she is extremely grateful – to the point when he asks her to marry him she says yes even though he only does it to keep her at Bletchley. Joan in Knightley’s capable hands is a thoroughly modern woman in a very snazzy wartime suit.

In fact the film manages to capture the period nicely, although this is definitely a movie with modern sensibilities. Tyldum parallels the attitude towards women hampering Joan’s career with the attitude towards homosexuality being a constant fear for Turing although one gets the sense that he felt that due to the indispensable nature of his war contributions that the government would turn a blind eye and maybe they did but that attitude certainly caught up to him.

What happened to Alan Turing was disgraceful and a waste of human potential. However, the movie made about his work does honor him and that’s very important to remember – not all film biographies are this respectful. Many who knew Turing have commented that the movie was fair in its depiction of Turing who was at turns arrogant, brilliant and sweet. One of the great performances of the year is reason enough to go see this, but there are many others as well.

REASONS TO GO:
Cumberbatch gives an award-worthy performance, and receives ample support from the rest of the cast. Does honor the memory of Turing well.
REASONS TO STAY: Could have cut down on the repetitious scenes of the cryptographers failing to solve Enigma.
FAMILY VALUES: Depictions of drug use and one scene of disturbing violence are what got this an “R” rating.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cumberbatch, who is distantly related to Turing, wore dentures based on Turing’s actual dental imprints as did Lawther who played Turing as a young boy.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Theory of Everything
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: The Gambler

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U-571


The crew of a WW2 sub has 99 problems and you're not one of them.

The crew of a WW2 sub has 99 problems and you’re not one of them.

(2000) War Thriller (Universal) Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi, Jake Weber, David Keith, Thomas Kretschmann, Jack Noseworthy, Tom Guiry, Will Estes, Terrence “T.C.” Carson, Erik Palladino, Dave Power, Derk Cheetwood, Matthew Settle, Rebecca Tilney, Burnell Tucker, Robin Askwith, Carsten Voigt. Directed by Jonathan Mostow

After the success of Saving Private Ryan, movies about the Second World War began to creep into the studio release schedules in the first years of the new millennium, with this film and Pearl Harbor (among others) both hoping to recapture the magic of the Steven Spielberg classic.

This time, the focus is on the submarine service of the U.S. Navy. Lt. Tyler (McConaughey) is the very competent exec of the S-33, one of the Navy’s older rustbuckets. He is chafing for his own command, but hasn’t been able to get the recommendation of his commanding officer (Bill Paxton), so he continues to be second in command as the battle in the Atlantic shipping lanes continues to go badly for the Allies. German U-Boats continue to sink allied ships at a terrifying rate and the navy is virtually powerless to break their codes.

However, that’s about to change. During a battle at sea, a U-boat is left crippled and sends a radio signal to Berlin. Allied intelligence manages to figure out what happened (don’t ask how, since they supposedly don’t know German codes) and have sent a taciturn intelligence officer, Lt. Hirsch (Weber) and a gung-ho Marine (Keith) to lead a mission to rendezvous with the crippled German sub posing as its supply vessel and steal the Enigma decoder and codebook. Along with them they bring Tyler, his respected by the men chief (Keitel) and a group of seamen to help take over the sub.

After a bloody battle, they manage to secure the German U-boat and get the decoder, when the REAL supply boat arrives and sinks the American submarine. The survivors are left aboard a vessel that’s unfamiliar and in which everything is written in a language they can’t read. To make matters worse, the U-boat is still crippled (although they manage to make some jury-rigged repairs) and is engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with a German destroyer.

Mostow manages to capture the claustrophobic feel of submarine service of the time, and the amazing stress that comes with avoiding depth charges, enemy torpedoes and the pressure of the deep. The sacrifice and bravery of the men and the coming of age of Tyler are the center of the storyline. Along the way, you get a pretty good idea of what terror a depth-charge barrage can be.

In the early years of his career McConaughey was a bit wooden more often than not but here he plays the heroic role with a certain amount of stoicism. Keitel plays the cliché gruff ole seadog pretty well, considering it’s not the kind of role he’s known for. But then nobody really expects the acting to be this film’s strong point. It’s the stomach-knotting tension that makes or breaks U-571 and there are times when this movie makes you want to leap out of your skin. However, they are unable to maintain the atmosphere consistently.

The reality of submarine service during the war, as nasty as this movie depicts it, was way more intense. If you are looking for a more realistic portrayal, try Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot, which is THE best submarine movie ever done. If that doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat, nothing will.

WHY RENT THIS: Realistic sub battles. A good sense of tension. Keitel makes a terrific seadog.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Inconsistent. McConaughey was a bit too laid back.

FAMILY MATTERS: A pretty goodly amount of violence and some scenes of extreme tension and fear.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Enigma machine depicted here wasn’t a prop; it was an actual Enigma that was loaned to the production by a collector.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There are some newsreel and archived material which are used to explain what inspired the making of the film. The Blu-Ray version makes this available in the U-Control Picture-in-Picture function.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $127.7M on a $62M production budget.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Thor: The Dark World