ALAN TURING built a prototype computer to break the codes that helped beat the Nazis, but "The Imitation Game" wonders if his life might yield something more.
Like an Academy Award.
Or, at the very least, a BAFTA.
"Sometimes it's the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine."
If that Oscar-baiting sentence (or its syntax) makes you barf, then bring a large bag to "The Imitation Game," because it's repeated no less than three times, just so there is no chance it can be missed by the producers of the Golden Globes telecast.
On the other hand, reading that dialogue with a straight face ought to yield some sort of prize for those forced to utter it. And no movie with as many excellent actors as "The Imitation Game" can fail to be interesting.
The lead here goes to Benedict Cumberbatch, best known as Sherlock Holmes, who plays tormented genius Turing and who by now can flex his tormented-genius muscle as easily as Stallone flexes his bicep.
This genius, though, has a childhood, and we get to see the forces that mold the suspicious and isolated Turing. Young Alan is ostracized at school for his intellect and for a condition that today we place on the spectrum of autism.
He's buried beneath floorboards, then rescued by a kind student named Christopher (Jack Bannon), with whom he falls deeply in love.
Not much has been made of this section of the "The Imitation Game," but it's by far the film's least Oscar-oriented stuff, and it provides a sturdy foundation for the more familiar story of Turing breaking codes at Bletchley Park during the war.
When Turing is granted the independence and the funds to build his code-breaking machine, he calls it Christopher, and lavishes all his attention upon it.
Turing's know-it-all isolation is a source of agitation to fellow code-breakers (Matthew Goode), especially to his commanding officer (Charles Dance, in contemptuous martinet mode).
He hits it off, though, with the group's lone female brain (Keira Knightley), a fellow outsider by virtue of her sex. He's even moved to propose a marriage of convenience, though they both know he's gay.
So, eventually, does the British government - he's arrested for it after the war, a humiliation that leads to his suicide.
Only one man at Bletchley seems to consistently see Turing's potential and usefulness, an intelligence officer played by Mark Strong, whose initially silly presence (coolly promising to hang, for treason, anyone who gabs about their work) morphs later into one of the movie's few true surprises, and in a more ambitious movie would herald an inquisition into our current marriage of computing and state surveillance.
The movie at times also seems to want to hold Turing's intellectual arrogance up as an example of the hubris we find in today's computing visionaries. Says one of the Bletchley men: "God didn't win the war, we did."
The movie loses that thread, and maybe it's just as well.
"The war" didn't end with the defeat of the Nazis. It dragged on for many more months in the Pacific, against a different axis power and a different set of codes.
It was won by Marines and another set of scientists, with another machine.