Tag Archives: Morten Tyldum

Controversial Criticism

The Imitation Game (2014) 2.71/5 (1)


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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.

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Headhunters (2011)


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Rating: The Good – 66
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Duration: 100 mins
Director: Morten Tyldum
Stars: Aksel Hennie, Synnøve Macody Lund, Nikolaj

Headhunters or “Hodejegerne” is an interesting Norwegian thriller with shades of black comedy based on the Jo Nesbø novel. Aksel Hennie plays a recruitment specialist who moonlights as an art thief in order to keep his wife (Synnøve Macody Lund) in the luxury she’s become accustomed to. Unfortunately for Hennie, his latest theft turns out to be a lot more tricky than he planned especially when the owner of the painting, Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, turns out to be an ex-special forces operative and begins hunting Hennie with intent to kill.

Headhunters starts out in intriguing fashion. We are introduced to the central character through a series of amusing vignettes which reveal the tricks to both his trades as well as glimpses of his personal life. Macody Lund and Coster-Waldau are set up equally well with lots of room left for mysterious motivations and desires. When the action does get going, it’s nearly impossible to anticipate because the story is constructed in such a way as to make a number of possibilities likely. Moreover, when a film involves a chase sequence where the lead character, naked and encrusted with human waste, drives a tractor with an impaled pit-bull hanging from its front, you can be fairly sure the film could go anywhere.

The good news is that this early part of the chase which continues through the second and third acts, is well contained and full of gripping tension thanks to some smart writing and clean editing. Hennie is a fine lead made evident by the fact that he carries the film on his own for extended periods of time and with little dialogue. Coster-Waldau makes for an intimidating bad guy and we could probably have seen a little more of him even though his brief intermittent appearances do add to his mystique. The spartan dialogue is reflected in and perhaps even complemented by the spartan set design and flat lighting, signifiers both of what has come to be known as “Nordic-noir”. This can come across a little dreary at times but the atypical plot development off-sets much of that.

Where Headhunters primarily slips up is in the ending. At 90 minutes long, it feels like everything is wrapped up just a little too quickly and much too neatly. The ending called for more bravery and better foundation in the later stages of the second act and early stages of the third. This lack of balance reflects a broader imbalance between the humour and the plot which seem to run in parallel for most of the movie instead of intertwining. Despite these weaker aspects, Headhunters is still worthy of a viewing if only for the roller-coaster ride, the first hour takes us on.