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Mathematician's Story Is Dramatic Enough For The Big Screen

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now, a mathematician of that era was hardly glamorous in his day. But the story of Alan Turing is dramatic enough to find its way to the silver screen. Kenneth Turan has our review.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "The Imitation Game" is the kind of crackerjack film it's pure pleasure to experience. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, TV's Sherlock Holmes, as mathematician Alan Turing. He was a code breaker of genius who helped win World War II only to be humiliated and destroyed because of his sexual orientation by the post-war establishment he helped to save. Things get cracking in 1939 when Turing offers his services as a code breaker to a spit-and-polish military man played by Charles Dance, who takes an instant dislike to the formidable mathematician.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE IMITATION GAME")

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) I like solving problems, commander. And Enigma is the most difficult problem in the world.

CHANCE DANCE: (As Commander Denniston) No, the Enigma isn't difficult; it's impossible. The Americans, the Russians, the French, the Germans, everyone thinks Enigma is unbreakable.

CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) Good. Let me try, and we'll know for sure, won't we?

TURAN: The Germans' super-secret Enigma machine was considered all but unbreakable because of the millions of options possible for the codes it created daily. The British put together a team to break Enigma's codes, but being a team player is definitely not Turing's style. He hopes to beat Enigma by creating a machine that can think. But he's such a pain that his teammates almost hope he fails. Turing's fortunes begins to change when he hires a female math-whiz well played by Keira Knightley. She's a level-headed woman who has a gift for people to relax.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE IMITATION GAME")

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY: (As Joan Clarke) It doesn't matter how smart you are. Enigma is always smarter. If you really want to solve your puzzle, then you're going to need all the help you can get. And they are not going to help you if they do not like you.

TURAN: After the war, Turing is arrested for what the law calls gross indecency, and his life collapses. Actor Cumberbatch has been excellent in the past, but his performance here makes this difficult, complex man accessible, even sympathetic. Sherlock Holmes, I'm afraid will have to step aside. This is the role of Cumberbatch's career.

MONTAGNE: The movie is "The Imitation Game." Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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