Published on: January 9, 2015
Thoughts about just some of the movies I saw during the Christmas break...
There is a lovely line in The Imitation Game
that, I think, sums up everything that the movie is about, both explicitly and implicitly: "Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."
It is a turn of phrase that both captures the spirit of this elegant, fascinating movie about the breaking of the German's Enigma code during World War II, as well as offers a lesson to leaders - business, political, religious, or any other kind - about the importance of creating an open, nurturing environment that prizes differences rather than marginalizes them.
Benedict Cumberbatch ("Sherlock") plays Alan Turing, the highly idiosyncratic mathematician who led a team of cryptologists assembled by the British government to break the Nazi code, an effort that most felt was critical to being able to win the war. Cumberbatch submerges much of his natural charisma to play Turing, who in additional to being brilliant and arrogant also was a social misfit; he was gay at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offense, and his personal struggles informed much of his behavior. Oddly enough, this also made him good at keeping secrets - which made him just what the war effort needed.The Imitation Game
is one of my favorite movies of the season - rich with historical detail, beautifully directed and written, and populated with some wonderful supporting performances, especially by Knightley, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Rory Kinnear, Matthew Goode, and Allen Leech. Unlike some period dramas, this one is paced like a thriller … despite the fact that most of the main characters are mathematicians and scientists; unlike The Theory of Everything
, which also was about a brilliant yet challenged Brit, this one gives the audience a sense of the scientific process rather than just glossing over it. And it is full of twists and turns that kept me utterly captivated.
Most of all, The Imitation Game
is about how important it is not to make assumptions about anyone, and how anyone, given the opportunity, can make a contribution to a larger cause. All they require are confidence, nurturing and a sense of belief. (This doesn't just go for the people who hire Turing to lead the code-breaking effort. It also goes for Turing, who at the beginning is so brilliant that he alienates his entire team. He learns - the hard way - to reach out to them, which only makes the enterprise more successful.)
"Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." Word to live by, especially if you are a leader engaged in your own kind of war. Which most are.
I love a movie that makes me think, that creates conversation, that does not appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Just such a movie is the Swedish film Force Majeure
, which can be seen now on iTunes. I don't know the director, the writer or the actors … but the movie has prompted several days of discussion around our kitchen table.
The setup is simple. A man who is a borderline workaholic takes his wife and two kids on a four-day skiing vacation in the French Alps. The idea is to reconnect with his family.
One day, they are eating in an outdoor restaurant at their ski lodge, and they see what appears to be a controlled avalanche … except that the avalanche quickly gets out of control and seems about the envelop the deck where they are sitting. At the last moment, the husband grabs his cell phone and keys and runs … leaving his wife and kids behind. Everybody survives, but the decision sets up a series of conversations, discussions and confrontations that throw into question his integrity, commitment and marriage. And it isn't just his relationship that gets questioned … it is that of every other couple they encounter and tell about the event.
Fascinating stuff, which can be seen from a lot of different angles, eliciting a lot of different opinions. (My kids found it funnier than I did, seeing in it a kind of absurdist comedy; my wife and I found it kind of sad.) And several days after watching Force Majeure
, we're still talking about it.
I recommend it highly.Foxcatcher
is a hard movie to like, but an easy movie to admire - cold as ice, but with some terrific performances. Steve Carrell is getting all the notices as John duPont, but Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are equally impressive as the Schultz brothers, Olympic wrestlers in the eighties who fell, to varying degrees, under duPont's spell. Foxcatcher
is about moral and ethical corruption, and how people can't just be leaders because they declare themselves to be. They have to earn it, and work for it, and it rarely is easy. It also is about how leadership is very different from manipulation ... which is something that a lot of bosses (including a few I've known) ought to learn. Be prepared for a movie that is supremely creepy, but Foxcatcher
is worth the effort.The Skeleton Twins
is an interesting little independent film, starring the former "Saturday Night Live" stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as similarly depressive twins who have not seen each other for more than 10 years, but are brought together when Hader's character, a gay out-of-work actor living in LA, attempts suicide. Wiig, despite all her own problems, takes him in, and over a period of weeks they find themselves alternately cheered and depressed by the other.
The movie is an interesting character piece, helped immeasurably by the presence of Luke Wilson as Wiig's husband. (I've never understood why Owen Wilson is a bigger star than his younger brother.) And Wiig and Hader are revelatory - they really inhabit their characters in a way is utterly persuasive. The Skeleton Twins
has moments of great humor, and also can be extremely depressing. But the movie, directed by Craig Johnson and written by Johnson and Mark Heyman, is a good piece of work, and worthy of your attention.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend ... and I'll see you Monday.