Rating: The Good – 65.4 Genre: Action, Thriller Duration: 105 mins Director: Kenneth Branagh Stars: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley
Chris Pine assumes the role of CIA analyst Jack Ryan for this unambitious yet entertaining reboot of the Tom Clancy series. Beginning with his recruitment to the agency, we follow Ryan from England to the U.S. to Russia as he attempts to uncover the latter’s plans for a financial attack on his country. With his handler (an always in-form Kevin Costner) watching over him and his girlfriend (Kiera Knightley) suspicious of his covert behaviour, he suddenly finds himself “field operational” and charged with infiltrating the accounts of Kenneth Branagh’s ruthless former KGB agent who’s leading the Russian attack. Once again, Pine gives us a charming younger version of a well known character and he and Knightley form a strong pairing on which much of the drama is surprisingly built. Best of all, though, is Branagh who contrasts his own peculiar charm with a cold edge that proves nicely intimidating. Impressively, Branagh is also calling the shots from the director’s chair and he sets and maintains a taut pace throughout its 100 minutes. In the post-Bourne world, the set pieces were always going to feel somewhat subdued but they’re all executed with skill. Martin Walsh’s crisp editing is particularly impressive, his job made easier by Branagh’s slick angles and pans. David Koepp’s script is of the efficient variety in that it doesn’t get in the way of the action but nor does it rise to level of his best work. However, where Shadow Recruit fails to live up to its predecessors is in the absence of any substantial agency intrigue or inter-military politics. This should probably come as no surprise given that it’s the only movie in the series not based on an actual Clancy novel but because of this, Shadow Recruit succeeds merely as a generic action thriller, albeit a well polished one.
Rating: The Bad – 54 Genre: Drama, War Duration: 114 mins Director: Morten Tyldum Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
Morten Tyldum’s moody WWII drama is based on the true life endeavours of Alan Turing as he attempted to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code by building a top secret machine that would become the platform for the modern computer. Outside of the broader premise which is executed rather well using montages of actual WWII footage, a lot has gone wrong here. The “extraordinary guy in an extraordinary situation” has become a staple of Benedict Cumberbatch’s career so much so that one struggles to think of him as anything but the socially inept, arrogant, patronising, superior mind so far removed from the rest of us that he’s destined to be misunderstood forever. What’s worse is that, over the last decade, this personality has crept insidiously into the television and Hollywood mediums like few others. Everyone from Hugh Laurie’s House MD to Claire Danes’ Carrie Matheson has had a crack at it and while a small few like Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network have done it with a level of complexity that humanises the conceit, most have bored the socks off us. If Cumberbatch’s Sherlock placed him among Eisenberg’s precious minority, his version of Alan Turing is very much the other kind – though his screenwriter Graham Moore (adapting Andrew Hodges’ biography) should shoulder some of the blame. Inaccessible but interesting isn’t easy to pull off but a lack of effort in achieving such balance is what is most concerning here. Everyone seems happy enough to portray the tortured mathematician as an oddball and nothing more. To celebrate it, in fact. As such we get a one-dimensional (not to mention cliched) central performance that scuppers the film from the outset.
Unfortunately, the screenwriting problems don’t end with its protagonist for The Imitation Game is the latest film to culminate every sequence of dialogue with an awfully clever sounding bit of folkish wisdom framing the entire scene around it as if to iterate that we’ve just heard something very special. You know, kind of like grabbing the audience by the back of the head and forcing them to appreciate the “genius” of the line up close. Sadly, more often than not, lines such as “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine” are borne of anything but genius and so the less attention they attract the better for everyone. But of course increasing the pace of the dialogue helps substantially in disguising inanity as wisdom and The Imitation Game isn’t about to buck the trend here either. Nor is it likely to pass up an opportunity to intertwine three different timelines from Turing’s life so as to tease out the ostensible profundity of the movie’s title (and that of his most famous book). After all, the dual relevance of mimicry to his personal and professional life is so subtle that it needs to be the central thread of any modern movie that has designs on being “smart”. What better way to achieve this than employing a similar backstory device as that used by The Social Network. And didn’t they talk really fast there too? Wait a minute! Is this a WWII version of Fincher’s classic? Well not quite because Fincher, Sorkin, and their cast gave their characters depth to begin with. The devices simply allowed for an artful way to unfold those layers.
With such bland characterisation, The Imitation Game instead gives one the distinct impression of being conned. Conned into thinking Turing is being humanised without him actually being humanised. That he and his fellow code breakers are intelligent in the absence of any really intelligent dialogue. That the film is profound even though it’s not. In fact, one could argue that it stands as testament to how far mainstream movie-making has strayed from the basics of storytelling so as to indulge gimmicks and the formula of those few thematically similar films that have proved successful. That it toils in a genre that has been addressed over and over again by previous generations of filmmakers perhaps underlines this more but it’s about time producers reinvested some trust in the writing process.