'The Imitation Game': What the Critics Are Saying

The Imitation Game, out in limited theaters on Friday, casts Benedict Cumberbatch as World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, who is tasked with breaking the Germans' Enigma code while hiding his sexuality from 1950s British law.

Also starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech and Matthew Beard, the drama from Black Bear Pictures and Bristol Automotive Productions also marks the English-language debut for director Morten Tyldum and the first-time feature for screenwriter Graham Moore.

See more The Making of 'The Imitation Game'

Read what top critics are saying about The Imitation Game:

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy calls it "engrossing, nicely textured and sadly tragic," and "dominating it all is Cumberbatch, whose charisma — tellingly modulated — and naturalistic array of eccentricities, Sherlockian talent at indicating a mind never at rest, and knack for simultaneously portraying physical oddness and attractiveness combine to create an entirely credible portrait of genius at work." Alongside him, "Knightley's turn here is alive, alert and altogether sympathetic."

Director Tyldum "moves things along nicely and achieves some rich visual texture, but doesn't seem all that interested in the finer points of period flavor, especially in regard to personal behavior" of the British during wartime; instead, "the characters are allowed a far greater and, one might argue, more modern range of emotional expression, which could be all to the good in terms of audience acceptance." Yet when it comes to actually cracking the code, "some basic explanations about what Turing has brought to the table would have honored the man's mind and accomplishments as well as respected the audience's intelligence and curiosity about what set him so decisively apart."

The New York Times' A. O. Scott considers it "a highly conventional movie about a profoundly unusual man. This is not entirely a bad thing. ... The science is not too difficult, the emotions are clear and emphatic, and the truth of history is respected just enough to make room for tidy and engrossing drama." Tyldum "orchestrates a swift and suspenseful race against the clock with a few touches of intrigue and ethical uncertainty," yet of (not) addressing Turing's sexuality, "a vital aspect of his identity and experience deserves more than a whisper and a wink." Cumberbatch's performance is "one of the year’s finest pieces of screen acting" and Knightley is "indispensably charming"

Read more 'Imitation Game': Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley Stress Codebreakers' Modern Relevance

The New Yorker's Anthony Lane highlights the many factual inaccuracies ("I am not sure what is more galling, the willful misreading of British mores or the falsification of science") and the missed opportunities of portraying so many parts of Turing's life and tragic death ("Here, in short, is a film about a highly intelligent homosexual mathematician that shows no homosexual behavior, almost no math and a faltering faith in the intelligence of its viewers"), yet commends members of the cast: "Alex Lawther, who plays Turing in flashbacks to his boarding school, has the delicate task of exuding a furrowed cleverness without being a pain in the neck, and fulfills it with distinction," and Dance "seems ever more Rathbone-like in his taste for verbal jousting." However, "Cumberbatch is quite at home in this environment — if anything, too much so. ... The movie itself is the opposite of enigmatic, and Cumberbatch merits more. ... An actor of his breed requires major directors, and their risky witchcraft."

Time's Richard Corliss notes that at first, it "fits into that cozy genre of tortured-genius biopics that sprout like kudzu just in time for the Oscars. But that’s not fair to the film, which outthinks and outplays other examples of the genre (The King’s Speech, The Theory of Everything) just as Turing outraced those around him. For this is a superhero movie of the mind. ... Critics won’t need a Turing machine to pick one of the most smartly judged, truly feeling movies of the year or its most towering, magnetic performance."

Read more 'The Imitation Game' Cast Is Actually Very Bad at Puzzles, But Good at Being "Very British"

The Guardian's Mark Kermode finds the script "too formulaic, too efficient at simply whisking you through and making sure you've clocked the diversity message," but what works is "the relationship between the central couple. Knightley is miles better than she's been in a while; sitting on a shelf rather than centre stage seems to suit her. ... Cumberbatch's Turing is most interesting when at his softest; endlessly bashing up against less brilliant colleagues or military bureaucracy is bruising all round."

Time Out London's Dave Calhoun gives the film four stars out of five: "Snappy and not too solemn, but perhaps not as much of a psychological puzzle as it could have been, ... Its various riffs on codes, whether moral, sexual, societal or German, are plain to see rather than enigmatic or enlightening." Yet "Cumberbatch, no stranger to roles with a hint of sociopathic genius, delivers a performance more complicated and knottier than the film around him."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com

Twitter: @cashleelee