This week’s films reviewed

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
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Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in the Oscar-tipped wartime thriller The Imitation Game

THE IMITATION GAME (12A)

In December 2013, The Queen granted a posthumous royal pardon to Alan Turing.

The London-born mathematician had been prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952 – a criminal act at the time – and he undertook a treatment of chemical castration with oestrogen injections rather than serve time behind bars.

It was an undeservedly inglorious end for a brilliant man, who was instrumental in breaking the Enigma code and should have been feted by our battle-scarred nation as a hero.

Based on a biography by Andrew Hodges, The Imitation Game relives that race against time to decipher German communications and bring the Second World War to a swift conclusion.

Morten Tyldum’s masterful drama neither shies away from Turing’s homosexuality nor lingers on it, framing nail-biting events at Bletchley Park with the mathematician’s 1951 arrest in Manchester.

“If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss things,” Turing teases us in voiceover.

Indeed, you’ll miss impeccable production design, an unconventional yet touching romance, subterfuge and sterling performances including an Oscar-worthy portrayal of the socially awkward genius from Benedict Cumberbatch.

Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) sits in a police interrogation room with Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear), facing a charge of indecency with a 19-year-old unemployed man called Arnold Murray.

“I think Turing’s hiding something,” Nock informs his superintendent (Steven Waddington), who is keen to wrap up the conviction.

In flashback, we witness Alan’s arrival at Bletchley Park where Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and Major General Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) preside over a group of the country’s keenest minds in the hope one of them can break Enigma.

Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech) and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard) work alongside Turing, but he ploughs his own furrow and raises eyebrows by recruiting Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) to the team.

She is a beautiful mind like Turing, inspiring him to greatness by observing, “Sometimes it is the people no-one imagines anything of that do the things people never imagine.”

Punctuated by school day scenes of the young Turing (Alex Lawther) and his first love, an older boy called Christopher (Jack Bannon), The Imitation Game is a beautifully crafted tribute to a prodigy, whose invaluable contribution to the war effort was unjustly besmirched by bigotry.

Cumberbatch is mesmerising, trampling over the egos of fellow code breakers without any concern for their feelings as he vows to solve “the most difficult problem in the world”.

It’s a tour-de-force portrayal, complemented by strong supporting performances from Knightley, Goode et al as the close-knit team who note, “God didn’t win the war. We did.”

The pivotal Eureka moment sets our pulses racing, heightened by Alexandre Desplat’s exquisite orchestral score.

Director Tyldum navigates the fractured chronology with clarity and flair, ensuring that his heart-rending film doesn’t itself become a perplexing puzzle.

RATING: 8.5/10

THE DROP (15)

Adapted for the screen by novelist Dennis Lehane from his 2009 short story Animal Rescue, The Drop is a solid, dependable crime thriller set predominantly in a Brooklyn bar, which the Chechen mob uses as a collection point for laundered money.

In these boozy and convivial surroundings, romance is kindled, personal ties are frayed and one hard-working member of bar staff contemplates breaking the law for a noble cause: love.

Belgian director Michael R Roskam’s second feature, his follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Bullhead, gradually turns the screws, exerting pressure on the characters as they wrestle with their consciences.

Some capitulate while others demonstrate hidden reserves of strength, resourcefulness and aggression that prove you should never judge a book by its well-worn cover.

The Drop is blessed with James Gandolfini’s final screen performance and he is a slippery, brooding presence amid occasional twists of a serpentine plot.

However, it’s chameleonic London-born star Tom Hardy, who wrought havoc on Christian Bale and Gotham as masked madman Bane, who shines brightest, juxtaposing his imposing physicality and vulnerability.

Bob Saginowski (Tom) is a softly spoken soul, who tends the neighbourhood bar owned and run by cousin Marv (Gandolfini).

Walking home after a shift, Bob hears whimpering and discovers a badly beaten pitbull in a dustbin.

The homeowner, Nadia (Noomi Rapace), claims to know nothing about the distressed animal and she helps to patch up the dog’s wounds.

Bob subsequently adopts the pitbull, christening his four-legged friend Rocco.

Soon after, two gun men hold up Marv’s bar and steal “five large... and change”.

Detectives Torres (John Ortiz) and Romsey (Elizabeth Rodriguez) investigate and when the police are gone, Chechen thug Chovka (Michael Aronov) arrives with goons in tow, impressing on Marv and Bob the importance of replacing the stolen cash as soon as possible.

As the dust settles, a criminal low-life called Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) visits Bob and claims to be Rocco’s owner.

He threatens to tell the police that Bob mistreated the pitbull unless the bartender pays him $10,000.

Faced with the prospect of losing Rocco, Bob contemplates stealing dirty money from the Chechens on one of the busiest drinking days of the year: Superbowl Sunday.

The Drop is predictable but this portrait of greed and ambition on the mean streets of New York hits most of the right menacing notes.

Lehane’s lean script is peppered with colourful dialogue and sustains dramatic tension.

Director Roskam gently waters the seeds of romance between Bob and Nadia, catalysed by simmering screen chemistry between Hardy and a poorly served and underused Rapace.

Performances from the two male leads anchor the picture, staring into the blackened hearts of men who surrendered their souls to the Devil many years ago.

RATING: 6/10

NATIVITY 3: DUDE, WHERE’S MY DONKEY?! (U)

Mrs Keen (Celia Imrie), the new headmistress of St Bernadette’s Primary School in Coventry, welcomes superteacher Mr Shepherd (Martin Clunes) to the fold to whip the pupils into shape ahead of an Ofsted inspection.

On his first day, Mr Shepherd sustains a swift kick to the head from the school donkey.

When he regains consciousness, Shepherd doesn’t recall his daughter Lauren (Lauren Hobbs) or his impending New York nuptials to sweetheart Sophie (Catherine Tate).

Buffoonish teaching assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton) joins forces with Lauren to restore her father’s memory by visiting favourite haunts from his childhood and participating in a flash mob competition in London.

Meanwhile, in the Big Apple, Sophie’s old flame, arrogant flash mob guru Bradley Finch (Adam Garcia), worms his way back into her brittle affections with help from her parents (Duncan Preston, Susie Blake), brother (Ralf Little) and bridesmaid (Niky Wardley).

Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! is possibly the worst film of the year.

The script’s definition of a flash mob is extremely loose, some of the children at St Bernadette’s look too old to attend primary school, several New York scenes have clearly been shot closer to home with British actors at odds with the accent and Mr Poppy is a major irritation rather than a joyous source of giggles.

Performances are as wooden as a Norwegian spruce and the song and dance numbers are unevenly lip-synced.

Characters behave without melodic rhyme or reason.

Sophie’s brother inexplicably vows to help slimeball Bradley win back Sophie, then sabotages the nefarious plan in the next breath.

To answer the over-punctuated question in the film’s title: with regret, dude, he’s at the knacker’s yard dragging the entire cast and crew with him.

RATING: 2/10