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The Imitation Game

A Most Violent Year

January 29, 2015

The Imitation Game (*** ½)

Chances are, if you’re like me, you don’t know much about mathematician Alan Turing. Director Morten Tyldum’s film The Imitation Game will change all of that, managing to accomplish things in a way that one would hope all biopics might strive to do but so rarely manage. Unlike the other Oscar nominated portrait of a brilliant but challenged man of science, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game comes across as a passionate and involving film and is thankfully free of the British television movie feel that the former film brought with it.

The Imitation Game is the stirring portrait of a man whose brilliance couldn’t save him from living in an age and time when persecution for sexual preferences were an all too common occurrence and would eventually prove to be his undoing. Turing suffered greatly but not before making lasting contributions in the way of science and paving the way for the age in which we currently live. It’s a fascinating story, well told and brought to life by its great performances contained therein.

Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor who in terms of big screen performances, hasn’t made that much of an impression on me up until now but that changes with his role in this film.

Knightley & Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

It’s full of the nuance and subtlety required of the part, bringing Turing’s tortured life as a homosexual nebbish front and center in a very palpable way. He’s also greatly aided by the performance of Keira Knightley as the woman who loves Turing but somehow knows Turing will never be able to love her in the truly fulfilling way that she deserves and desires.

The film’s script is structured mostly around Turing’s determination to build a machine that will decode secret messages during World War II. The British are attempting to figure out the next move from Germany and potentially save civilian lives. Turing thinks he’s up to the task but is constantly threatened by the limited patience of his superiors in the British Secret Service. Once he decides to go over his superiors’ heads and seek assistance from Winston Churchill himself, things finally start going in a positive direction. Knightley is Joan Clark, Turing’s loyal assistant who is the only woman with the intelligence to match wits with Turing. They make a great pair professionally but then Turing eventually asks her to marry him, sending things spinning in a totally different direction.

The Imitation Game, in spite of subject matter that might lead one to think otherwise, is a most involving affair from start to finish. It looks great and has a great story to tell that will linger after the film has come and gone. In short, it’s what we hope to experience when we go to the movies. PG-13

A Most Violent Year (** ½)

Judging from the film’s title, one might be expecting a crime thriller bursting with excitement and tension. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. A Most Violent Year is, Foxcatcher notwithstanding, one of the slowest cinematic burns made in the year 2014. Director J.C. Chandor’s latest film has little of the tension or the visceral excitement of his effort from 2013, All is Lost. It’s as if the director was bound and determined to go in an exactly opposite direction from what came before. On that level at least I have to admire the filmmaker for attempting not to repeat himself even if the results are middling at best. Just don’t go into the film expecting anything resembling the urgency of Chandor’s previous work.

The film is set in New York City during the winter of 1981. It wasn’t one of the brightest moments in the city’s history, coming off of the financial troubles that the Big Apple had been suffering through during the decade of the 1970s. Chandor must be given credit for crafting a realistic portrait of NYC at that point in time. The film captures the bleakness and grittiness in a way that is rarely seen and that’s certainly one of its strengths.

Oscar Isaac & Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year
   
Oscar Isaac, who caused such a stir in 2013 in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, stars as Abel Morales, the proprietor of an oil business whose competitors are hijacking his oil trucks and stealing his supply. He feels he’s worked hard to be where he is in life and finds himself confused as to how he should handle the situation. Jessica Chastain, in yet another great performance, stars as Abel’s wife who butts heads with him as to how the crisis should be handled. Meanwhile his finances and personal life crumble all around him.

For my money, the most troubling problem of the film is its lack of dramatic fireworks. On too many occasions, plot turns that could potentially lead to great advances in the film’s storytelling fizzle and go nowhere. One can’t help but wonder what kind of story a filmmaker along the lines of Martin Scorsese could have coaxed out of the material. Unfortunately, Chandor seems to have bitten off more than he can chew and after awhile the seams begin to show.

The film is well shot and as previously mentioned, contains some great performances but it just seems to flounder around attempting to find its groove. Perhaps my expectation level was just a bit too high given Chandor’s achievements with All is Lost but A Most Violent Year just never seemed to catch fire for me. Others may feel differently but you can’t say you haven’t been warned. Rated R

The Imitation Game is playing everywhere in this area. A Most Violent Year is in Charlotte, and playing in Mooresville.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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