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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Enigma

Starring: Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott
Director: Michael Apted
Rated: NR
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: January 2001
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Saffron Burrows, Jeremy Northam

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

A world of similar films may be enough for most directors but not for Michael Apted whose range includes original, significant documentaries like "7-Up" (the lives and aspirations of seven- year-old children, continued as those very children reach the ages of 14, 212, 28 and 35), a critical and popular success, "The Coal Miner's Daughter" (exploring the life of country singer Laura Lynn), "Gorillas in the Mist" (about ape researcher Dian Fossey) and then, less than three years ago, a James Bond thriller, "The World is Not Enough." Defying the expectations of movie fans that his look into British code-breaking during World War II would be a knock-down, drag-out action pic given the recent explosion of Second World War blockbusters, his "Enigma" is a thinking person's spy story with most of the action occurring internally and the few scenes of vigorous goings-on such as the inevitable car chase, the leap from trains, and the explosion that knocks out a submarine almost a disappointing change from mental activity. Though there are not the usual blind alleys in this spy story, there's a couple of neat twists, but generally "Enigma" is to a great extent what spying and code- breaking are all about: lots of perspiration with just a smidgen or two of daredevil antics. Even the romance is realistic.

Using British actors, some of whom are scarcely known to the mainstream American movie audience, Apted with a big boost from Tom Stoppard's intricate and complex dialogue takes us into the Bletchley Park of 1943, sixty miles north of London, a building that houses men and women intent on intercepting and breaking German codes. While an Allied merchant shipping convoy laden with supplies for Britain is crossing the Atlantic with ten thousand passengers, a swarm of German U-boats is beeping instructions, one to the others, about the location of the merchant vessels which are now in imminent danger.

Ordinarily, the British cloak-and-dagger people would have broken the code to determine the location of the subs, but the enemy has ascertained that its code had been broken and has changed the cryptograms to the frustration of the English. The question is: who leaked this secret military information to the Nazis? Just about anyone at Bletchley Park could be a suspect in the mind of secret service agent Wigram (the predictably dapper and witty Jeremy Northam), but Wigram has honed in the brilliant mathematician Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), who he suspects has revealed the information foolishly to a Bletchley agent who had caught his fancy, Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows). Working with Claire's roommate, Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet), Dougray determines to stay a few steps ahead of the pursuing Wigram while attempting to crack the new German code and discover the whereabouts of the missing Claire now suspected of treason.

Ireland's distinguished critic, Harvey O'Brien, has stated that "Enigma" is the sort of movie that may appeal to an older audience, the young 'uns presumably unable to tolerate the lack of an MTV-like pace and explosions. Blockbusters have become a familiar landscape with films like "We Were Soldiers" and the upcoming "Windtalkers" and I believe Dr. O'Brien is on to something, but what a pity. Yet while "Enigma" could have been a plodding docu-drama like Attenborough's "Gandhi," Apted wisely chooses to inject considerable romance into the story to catch our fancy. Tom Jericho has become obsessed with the seductive and beautiful Claire and may have given away valuable information to this mysterious woman, while he takes notice, albeit more slowly, of the superior charms of the more intelligent but mousy-looking Hester. The chemistry between Scott and Winslet is not as palpable as the kind the typical American movie audience expects, but is more realistic and is portrayed with real class amid a well crafted film that benefits much from John Barry's hypnotic but unobtrusive music and photographed handsomely by Seamus McGarvey in the UK (including Scotland) and the Netherlands. As an added benefit, "Enigma" puts the credit for the codebreaking operations correctly with the British and not with the Americans (as expressed in the film "U-571"). The acting is first rate, from Jeremy Northam's schtick as the confident, debonair secret agent to Kate Winslet's successful attempt to do the impossible to appear unglamorous. Dougray Scott illustrates what is probably the typical way a person may react while recovering from nervous exhaustion. All in all, an intelligent piece of work with believable (rather than over-the-top) romance and a credible look at some of the unsung heroes of World War II.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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