Enigma -- ***1/2 (out of 5) (2001)
Cast: Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Saffron Burrows, Jeremy Northam, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Directed By Michael Apted
ENIGMA is based on the bestselling Robert Harris novel of the same name, with its cerebral plot centering around the British code-breakers during World War II, trying valiantly to decipher the complicated codes used by the Nazis, especially during their submarine missions. This is an intelligent spy yarn, with terrific performances and nice locale work, making this a good looking suspense flick for the thinking man. Of course, that's a double-edged sword for some viewers, who will probably find that a film that delivers the thrills through trying to crack an elaborate code to be tepid at best, especially when the level of detail in the explanations requires diligent concentration to fully understand what's going on at all times. Stick with it, it's worth it.
Dougray Scott stars as Tom Jericho, a leading British code-breaker responsible for the initial solving of the complicated system of encoded messages used by the Germans. He is called into action once again when the Germans change their system of codes, and with the disappearance of a prominent woman he was involved with, he begins to suspect there may be a connection, and someone internal may have been the one to tip off the Nazis of their original breakthrough. Now he must solve the code, as well as the mystery behind the disappearance, and with help from a girl named Hester (Winslet). Time is running down, because a potential tragedy is brewing in the Atlantic with a convoy of shipping vessels amid the German U-boats the British no longer know the positions of.
For those who enjoy old-fashioned espionage suspense films, very similar to the ones done by Hitchcock during the Forties, there's quite a bit to like in this throwback. The cast is solid, with Scott and Winslet creating a good deal of interest with likeable, and very vulnerable, characters. Tom Stoppard (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, BRAZIL) provides the very smart screenplay, which is remarkable considering the level of detail required, while having to create suspense with what might be a dry subject otherwise. Michael Apted (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, ENOUGH) creates a classy mystery atmosphere, with good cinematography by Seamus McGarvey (THE HOURS, HIGH FIDELITY).
ENIGMA makes a good companion piece to U-571, which deals with the search for an Enigma machine to try to turn the tide of the war. Both are well-acted suspense films with good performances, and on an evening when there's nothing great on the video store shelves, the two films make for a nice double feature.
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