I watched two superb films last week and they couldn’t have been more different from each other. The first was the very British drama, based on the life of brilliant mathematician, Alan Turing, ‘The Imitation Game;’ the second, set in small town America, ‘The Judge’.
Turing has come in for a lot of attention in recent years, and quite rightly so. Instrumental in breaking Enigma, the unbreakable German encryption code used in World War II, he was both an unsung hero and, perversely, a criminal after being despicably treated by the Establishment because of his homosexuality. While I understand that he lived during a time when homosexuality was a crime and there was also a need to keep his wartime activity a secret, it seems bizarre that someone who did so much should have been hounded in the way that he was. Offered Hobson’s choice: a prison sentence or chemical castration, Turing chose the latter. His suffering, brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, is utterly haunting, particularly in the final scenes, and I’m amazed Cumberbatch didn’t pick up an Oscar.
Stellar performances were also on display in ‘The Judge’, featuring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Junior. Hank Palmer (Downey) a successful and cynical big city lawyer, is forced to return home to defend, his dad and eponymously named judge, (Robert Duvall) after he is accused of murder. But what’s interesting is that the murder story and subsequent court scenes are almost incidental. The ‘meat’ of the story is the volatile relationship between father and son. Brutal, visceral and honest, it rings with authenticity. And this brings me to the big point.
Screenwriters and novelists have much in common, but perhaps the most overriding feature is that they are both amateur psychologists. To write convincingly about characters, it’s necessary to understand how human beings tick and behave given any set of circumstances. We’ve all watched films and read books in which you’re forced to think that he or she ‘wouldn’t have done that.’ Often when this happens it’s due to the writer trying to fulfil the requirements of plot at the expense of characterisation. Clearly, none of this applies to the films mentioned here. Masterclasses in human psychology, they rate very highly indeed.