As we learn in the closing slates of The Imitation Game, mathematician Alan Turing’s work de-coding the Nazi Enigma machine during World War II may well have saved the lives of 14 million people. Quite an accomplishment for a man whose name you have probably never heard until now.

It’s one thing to watch a biopic about someone whose story is familiar (Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robinson, James Brown), but the discovery inherent in a film about an unknown, game-changing hero helps propel The Imitation Game from being (merely) an excellent film to its current standing as truly one of the best of the year.

Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t just portray the enigmatic (pun intended) Turing, he actually becomes the man the same way Dustin Hoffman (similarly) became Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man. His Turing is a humorless, socially-inept genius who calls on his lifelong love for codes and cryptography to create what is essentially the world’s first computer.

But that is only half of Turing’s tale. Graham Moore’s riveting script, based on the biography by Andrew Hodges, ensures that we also learn the rest of the story. He pointedly details law enforcement’s detestable reaction to Turing’s homosexuality (due to its illegality in Britain at the time). It, like Selma’s depiction of the Civil Rights movement, is a poignant, heartbreaking reminder of society’s progress while at the same time showing how much is still to be done.

Director Morten Tyldum (Headhunter), helming his first English-language feature, keeps the action tight, the tension high, and the pace swift throughout The Imitation Game— deftly jumping between Turing’s childhood, the war years with Enigma, and his personal, post-war tragedy. It speaks volumes that one of the most nail-biting and ultimately triumphant moments in film this year is a simple image of a machine’s cog clicking into place, as Turing’s computer finally proves a success. It’s a perfect metaphor for the movie itself– a brilliant, intoxicating testament to how entertaining a film can be when all the moving pieces come together.

5/5 stars