Disappearance at Clifton Hill


Trying to pretend an alien isn’t eavesdropping on their conversation.

(2019) Suspense (IFC Midnight) Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, Eric Johnson, David Cronenberg, Marie-Josée Croze, Andy McQueen, Noah Reid, Dan Lett, Aaron Poole, Paulino Nunes, Elizabeth Saunders, Mikayla Radan, Addison Tymec, Tim Beresford, Janet Porter, Clyde Witham, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Kris Hagen, Connor Lucas-Loan, Devon Hauth, Alanis Peart. Directed by Albert Shin

 

Coming home again is never easy. It’s even harder after a beloved parent dies and you’re there to dispose of her worldlies. How difficult must it be on top of all that when it is the scene of a traumatic act that has shaped your entire life?

Abby (Middleton) is in that latter situation. Her mother is gone and her mom’s one asset, the Rainbow Hotel in the seedy tourist trap area of Niagara Falls known as Clifton Hill, needs to be sold to pay off debts. Fortunately, there’s a taker; Charles Lake III (Johnson), the head of the Charles Lake Corporation (a.k.a. CLC) which owns most of the run-down tourist attractions in town – hell, he owns the town!

What has haunted Abby her entire life was the occasion of seeing a terrified one-eyed boy beaten and kidnapped before her very eyes. When she tells her sister Laure (Gross) what she saw, Laure doesn’t believe her. Laure probes to be justified as Abby embarks on what could charitably be called a checkered life.

But now the events of that Thanksgiving weekend have resurfaced to haunt her and Abby is determined to get to the bottom of it and prove once and for all that she wasn’t crazy. She identifies the boy as Albert Moulin, the son of a pair of second-rate magicians (Nunes, Croze) who at the time were the big dogs in the small pond.

She finds an unlikely ally in Walter Bell (Cronenberg), a local historian/conspiracy theorist/podcaster/line cook at a local themed restaurant called the Flying Saucer Café. Walter also worked with a group called the Diving Bells who recovered bodies from the Falls. “Ever seen someone who jumped into the gorge?” he inquires in a soft but intense voice, “It’s like they swallowed a live hand grenade.”

Bell leads her in the direction of Lake, who has a checkered past of his own and an apparent taste for small boys. Abby is sure that Charles had Albert killed and decides to go out to prove it, which isn’t a very good idea considering that he owns the hotel her mother built and he has the police force and City Hall in his pocket. Still, Abby feels compelled to vindicate herself after all those years in the eyes of her sister, but the cost of vindication could be unbearably high.

Shin is a talented young Canadian director who is very clearly influenced by the work of fellow Canadian director Cronenberg. Casting him here was a stroke of genius because Cronenberg is actually a pretty talented actor as well. He plays Walter as quirky but never a parody of the paranoid conspiracy theorist. His laconic delivery is on the low-key side but it actually adds to the character’s allure.

Middleton, who most know from the Downton Abbey series (I wonder if the character’s name was an intentional in-joke or just a coincidence) gives Abby just the right amount of edge to make the audience call into question her veracity as a narrator. That is really at the heart of the movie; can a congenital liar be believed? Obviously, the audience is rooting for yes, but the final twists of the movie call into question even that.

The score by Alex Sowinsky and Leland Whitty is the kind of dissonant jazz that William S. Burroughs would have loved and serves to keep the audience off-balance. Shin excels at that and it is the movie’s greatest strength. On the weakness end, there are too many extraneous bits of business and characters refer to what are apparently important events that aren’t explained until later. It’s maddening and makes it feel like the filmmakers were winging it ore than they actually did.

All in all, though, it’s a pretty decent thriller that utilizes its Niagara Falls location excellently, even if we get no cliché shots of the famous “horseshoe” falls. Middleton makes an appealing lead and Cronenberg makes a compelling addition. If you’re looking for a good thriller, you could certainly do much worse than this.

REASONS TO SEE: Shin takes his cues from David Cronenberg’s early work; it’s therefore fitting that he cast the legendary director in his film.
REASONS TO AVOID: Gets a little bit jumbled, particularly towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity as well as some sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was originally titled Clifton Hill when it debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last year, but the name was changed when it was picked up by a distributor.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/1/20: Rotten Tomatoes:69% positive reviews: Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Deep End of the Ocean
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Maria by Callas

New Releases for the Week of February 28, 2020


THE INVISIBLE MAN

(Blumhouse/Universal) Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Benedict Hardie. Directed by Leigh Whannell

When her abusive ex takes his own life, Cecilia is at first relieved. When he leaves her his fortune, she becomes uneasy. When a series of unlikely coincidences turns lethal, she begins to suspect that her ex may not be dead but hiding in plain sight.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for some strong bloody violence and language)

Blood on Her Name

(Vertical) Bethany Anne Lind, Elisabeth Röhm, Jared Ivers, Will Patton. When a woman accidentally kills a man, she panics and hides the body. When her conscience demands that she return the body to his family, things really spiral out of control.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Studio Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Disappearance at Clifton Hill

(IFC Midnight) Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, David Cronenberg, Eric Johnson. A troubled young woman with a checkered past returns home to Niagara Falls. While there she is compelled to investigate a mystery that has plagued her since childhood, but that investigation will take her into a conspiracy of silence that runs deeper than she could possibly fathom.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater
Rating: NR

Emma.

(Focus) Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth. Jane Austen’s beloved tale of a queen bee in a small town who seeks an equal to marry, discovers that sometimes you have to earn your happily ever after.

=See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for brief partial nudity)

Guns Akimbo

(Saban) Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Ned Dennehy, Rhys Darby. A mild-mannered video game developer gets caught up in a real-life streaming deathmatch, waking up with guns grafted to his hands. He’s up against the game’s most successful killer and his usual fallback. of running and hiding won’t help him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action Comedy
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and brief graphic nudity)

Impractical Jokers: The Movie

(truTV) Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn, Sal Vulcano. The merry pranksters of truTV make the break for the silver screen, starring in a movie that involves their attempt for redemption, competing in hidden camera challenges that will help overcome a high school mishap that hangs over the lives of three of them.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall,  AMC Avenue 16, AMC Classic New Smyrna, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, Cinemark Orlando, Cinepolis Polk County, Cobb Grand Winter Haven, Cobb Merritt Square, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Epic Theaters of Lee Vista, Epic Theaters of Titusville, Epic Theaters of West Volusia, Fashion Square Premiere, Regal Port Orange Pavilion, Regal The Loop, Regal Wekiva Riverwalk
Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive content, language, some drug references and brief nudity)

Premature

(IFC) Zora Howard, Joshua Boone, Imani Lewis, Jimmy Lee Gary Jr. Two young people in Harlem – a poet getting ready to go to college in the fall, and an aspiring music producer, meet and fall in love. But the fantasy turns real as they – and particularly her – must deal with the consequences of their relationship

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

Seberg

(Amazon) Kristen Stewart, Jack O’Connell, Anthony Mackie, Colm Meaney. Actress Jean Seberg was the darling of the French New Wave cinema, but her involvement in the civil rights movement brought her to the attention of the FBI who did their best to derail her career and tarnish her reputation.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, sexual content/nudity and some drug use)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Thappad

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band
Thappad
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations
Zombi Child

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Baahu
Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Nuuk
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band
Thappad
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Forensic
Hit
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Disappearance at Clifton Hill
Emma
The Invisible Man
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Bonita Springs International Film Festival, Bonita Springs FL
Vero Beach Film and Wine Festival, Vero Beach FL

New Releases for the Week of September 20, 2019


AD ASTRA

(20th Century Fox) Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Loren Dean, LisaGay Hamilton. Directed by James Gray

An astronaut whose father disappeared on a mission thirty years before must travel to the edges of the solar system to confront the mystery of that disappearance and take on an event that threatens all life on our planet but may fundamentally change our understanding of our place in the scheme of things.

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language)

Downton Abbey

(Focus) Hugh Bonneville, Matthew Goode, Maggie Smith, Tuppence Middleton. This Crawleys and their intrepid staff face a royal visit that will uncover scandal and intrigue in this motion picture continuation of the beloved PBS/BBC series.

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and language)

Prassthanam

(Pack Your Bag) Sanjay Dutt, Manisha Koirala, Jackie Shroff, Chunky Pandey.. A Shakespearean tale of a politically connected family whose patriarch favors his stepson over his birth son which leads to a bitter rivalry between the two.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Rambo: Last Blood

(Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Adrianna Barraza, Sergio Peris Mencheta. John Rambo must unearth his rusty combat skills and undertake one final mission in the last chapter of this action franchise.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong graphic violence, grisly images, drug use and language)

Villains

(Gunpowder & Sky) Bill Skarsgǻrd, Maika Monroe, Jeffrey Donovan, Kyra Sedgewick. A pair of amateur criminals attempt to rob a suburban home, only to discover that the house holds a much darker secret that the homeowners would do anything to keep that way.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language throughout, some violence, drug use and sexual content)

The Wedding Year

(Entertainment Studios) Sarah Hyland, Tyler James Williams, Jenna Dewan, Anna Camp.  Mara and Jake have just started dating, but they seem to be behind the curve when it comes to their friends who are getting married left and right. All these weddings begin to put a strain on the nascent relationship.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: R (for language, some sexual content and drug/alcohol use)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Bandobast
El Equipito
Kaapaan
Love, Action, Drama
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Promare
Running With the Devil
Trauma is a Time Machine
Valmiki

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Bandobast
Bloodline
El Equipito
Kaapaan
Love, Action, Drama
Talk to Her
Under the Same Roof
Valmiki
The Zoya Factor

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Ambition
Love, Action, Drama
Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas
Promare
Running With the Devil’
Valmiki

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Bandobast
Kaapaan
Sword of Trust
Valmiki
The Zoya Factor

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Ad Astra
Downton Abbey
Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool
Rambo: Last Blood

Jupiter Ascending


Star-crossed lovers...literally.

Star-crossed lovers…literally.

(2015) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Christina Cole, Nicholas A. Newman, Ramon Tikaram, David Ajala, Doona Bae, Ariyon Bakare, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Edward Hogg, Tim Pigott-Smith, James D’Arcy, Jeremy Swift, Vanessa Kirby. Directed by the Wachowskis

The vastness of space seems to lend itself to stories that are epic. After all, a character study seems to lose focus when confronted with the vast nature of the cosmos. That doesn’t mean, however, that science fiction doesn’t have room for well-developed characters.

Jupiter Jones (Kunis) is living a life that she probably wouldn’t have chosen for herself. A house cleaner with relatives on her mother’s (Kennedy) side, she was born in mid-Atlantic after her mother fled Russia on the occasion of the murder of her husband (D’Arcy) – an astronomer studying in Russia – by Russian criminals.

She wakes up before dawn and spends most of her time wondering if this is all there is. When a particularly enterprising cousin urges her to sell her eggs for the money she needs to buy a telescope, something that would be a precious legacy from her ad, she goes for it. But for some strange reason, the surgical team wants to kill her. And they would have, too, if not for the intervention of Caine Wise (Tatum).

Wise, a genetically spliced humanoid of both human and canine genes, is a bred warrior who wears gravity boots that allow him to soar in an approximation of flight, although he has to move like a demented speed skater in order to use them properly. He takes Jupiter to the home of Stinger (Bean), likewise a spliced warrior sort and there Jupiter learns the truth; her genes are an exact match for the matriarch of an enormously wealthy and powerful family. They own whole planets that have been seeded with humanoids, using the genetic material once harvested to extend the lives of the very wealthy (like themselves). Three of the matriarch’s children – eldest son Balem (Redmayne) who owns the Earth and seems slightly psychotic, middle son Titus (Booth) who is something of a playboy, and youngest daughter Kalique (Middleton) who is ambitious, are all plotting to gain control of Jupiter with Balem wanting to kill her altogether because she, as the genetic duplicate of his mother, would receive the rights to all of the children’s fortunes.

This is all a bit much for Jupiter and if she feels like a pawn in an enormous game, well, that’s just because she is. However, Jupiter isn’t the frightened weakling the Abrasax family seems to think she is and before long, with Caine by her side and the support of the galactic police force, she may yet see this through. However, the Abrasax heirs with the stakes so high won’t play by any particular set of rules.

The Wachowskis who made their reputation on creating a world familiar and yet not in the Matrix trilogy, have attempted to create a detailed and lush environment on a gigantic planet, with a budget said to be in the $165 million range. There is a whole lot of that on the screen, because the special effects here are as good as any you’ll see this year and likely to get a nomination for next year’s Oscars although they’ll have to compete with the new Star Wars episode in that category. Bummer.

The problem here is that the story is so complicated and there is so much back stabbing and about facing going on that it’s hard to follow along. While you’re attempting to follow along you’re also treated to visuals that are so incredible and detailed that it’s really hard to take it in. This is a movie that’s built for repeated viewings.

The performances run the gamut. Tatum, who has matured into a pretty decent actor with a great deal of potential ahead after being somewhat wooden at the beginning of his career, helps make this film enjoyable. Caine is often mystified by the behavior of others and while he is quick with the “your majesty” and deference, he also is quite willing to take a chunk out of an entitled jerkwad if the occasion calls for it. Kunis is also quite the capable actress but here she’s a bit frustrating. She is definitely a damsel in distress here, not projecting much strength or wisdom on her own; she has these incredible genes that apparently the galaxy has been searching for but no genetic gifts. While I understand she was raised in the working class as a housekeeper (and why doesn’t she have a Russian accent like the rest of her family?) there should be something else there, don’t you think? This is where the character development thing comes in handy.

Redmayne, who is in the running for an Oscar this weekend, plays this role like he won the part in a reality show. It’s truly mystifying because we’re all aware what a terrific actor he can be, but he speaks in such a murmur it’s often difficult to make out what he’s saying, before erupting into Pacino-like shouts whenever his character gets frustrated. If it’s meant to convey that Belem is psychotic, well, yeah but psychotic in an “I eat spiders” kind of way rather than as a devious, dangerous villain. More like a petulant child. “The Earth is mine,” he says at one point and I half expected him to stomp his feet and shriek “MINE! MINE! MINE!”

Enormous space craft cruise majestically through space and there is that epic quality to the movie that I think is intentional, but there is also kind of a glacial quality that I think is not. Yes, there are some pretty good action sequences (including a chase sequence near the beginning of the film set in Chicago) but the kinetics of those sequences don’t continue throughout the movie; the momentum that is built up by the action just falls to the floor like a dead fish.

I really wanted to like this film. Heck, I really wanted to love this film – I respect the Wachowskis as film makers and have admired their films from the beginning of their career back in Bound and even including Cloud Atlas which didn’t receive a lot of love from critics and audience alike but I thought was one of the top movies of 2012 although in the interest of full disclosure, I was much more a fan of the sequences directed by Tom Tykwer than I was of those directed by the Wachowskis.

This will not make my list of top films this year, although it’s not a bad movie at all. It’s just an intimidating one, full of sound and fury but I’m not quite sure what was signified here. It’s not nothing, though. That I can tell you for sure.

REASONS TO GO: State-of-the-art eye candy. Tatum manages to perform well in a goofy role.
REASONS TO STAY: Head-scratching performance by Oscar-nominated Redmayne. Convoluted story.
FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of violence and space battle action, some sexually suggestive content and some partial nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was originally supposed to be released on June 20, 2014 but was delayed eight months so that the special effects could get more time and detail in post production.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/21/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 23% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chronicles of Riddick
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Kingsman: The Secret Service

New Releases for the Week of February 6, 2015


Jupiter AscendingJUPITER ASCENDING

(Warner Brothers) Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, James D’Arcy, Tuppence Middleton, Doona Bae, Tim Piggott-Smith. Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski

A pretty young housecleaner who has grand dreams but has been hit with a series of tough breaks wonders where life is going to take her. As it turns out, it’s the cosmos – her genetic make-up marks her as royalty which puts her smack into a cosmic game the steaks of which are unfathomably high for the human race.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity)

Love, Rosie

(The Film Arcade) Lily Collins, Sam Claflin, Tamsin Egerton, Suki Waterhouse. Having been best friends since the age of 5, Rosie and Alex can’t imagine not having the other in their lives. However, as far as love is concerned, there might be something there – but it always seems to appear at inconvenient times. Are they really the best friends they think they are, or is there something more deep down?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex
Rating: R (for language and for some sexual content)

Old Fashioned

(Freestyle) Rik Schwartzwelder, Elizabeth Ann Roberts, LeJon Woods, Tyler Hollinger. An antique store owner with a checkered past and somewhat lofty and overblown theories of love and romance finds his life and his philosophy on l’amour thrown into a tizzy when a free-spirited young woman moves into the apartment above his shop.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material)

Seventh Son

(Universal/Legendary) Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Olivia Williams. When an evil witch holds a medieval kingdom in thrall, the last knight of a mystical order goes in search of the last Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, who prophecy claims has enormous potential to battle evil. Finding his would-be hero on a farm, the knight must train him quickly in order to survive the coming battle.

See the trailer, interviews, a clip, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX (opens Thursday)
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense fantasy violence and action throughout, frightening images and brief strong language)

Shamitabh

(Eros International) Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush, Akshara, Rekha. Two men with dreams of becoming Bollywood superstars – one a deaf-mute with matinee idol looks, the other an aging alcoholic with an amazing voice – join forces to create one complete personality. However, the two have a very hard time getting along.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Bollywood
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

The Spongebob Movie: A Sponge Out of Water

(Paramount/Nickelodeon) Antonio Banderas, Tom Kenny (voice), Clancy Brown (voice), Slash. When the super-secret, double hidden, cross your heart and hope to die, promise not to tell recipe for Crabby Patties is stolen, Spongebob and his band of merry misfits must come to our world and get it back. Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Paramount is hoping a ton of cash.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, premiere footage and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Family (Live Action/CGI)
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Still Alice

(Sony Classics) Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth. A brilliant linguist who is at the top of her profession begins to display a worrying habit of forgetting words and having difficulty remembering things. When she is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, she and her family find that the binds that connect them come under a great deal of pressure. As she struggles to remain connected to who she is – which is rapidly becoming who she used to be – she begins to learn what is really important and what is worth fighting for.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference)

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