Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Michael Apted

Cast: Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Tom Hollander, Corin Redgrave

MPAA Rating: R (for a sex scene and language)

Running Time: 1:57

Release Date: 4/19/02

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Enigma is about a man obsessed. Because the man is a mathematician, his obsessive nature seems a given, not only because of his vocation but because of the introverted temperament that accompanies most people of the mathematically inclined. Itís also, as the title suggests, about a puzzle. The story is a mystery revolving around a disappearance, a mass grave, and a hidden, coded message from the Nazis. And with both of these elements in place, the film is ultimately about the manís transformation as the process of unraveling the mystery unfurls. Enigma could be classified as a thriller, but it wouldnít be doing the film justice. Director Michael Apted and screenwriter Tom Stoppard (working from a novel by Robert Harris) do not allow the film to play dumb for the audience. The mystery doesnít revolve solely around guessing who the bad guy isóthereís a historical and personal context to the whole thingóand the thrills are more cerebral than visceral. Filmmakers donít often venture into telling such stories and even less often do they make them as entertaining as the one told in Enigma.

World War II is in full swing, and the intellectuals of Bletchley Park , a small community outside of London full of academics working for the war effort, have their work cut out for them. The Germans have changed their infamous Enigma code and are preparing a U-Boat attack on an American cargo fleet. The Enigma code took a team many grueling months to break because of the ingenious design of the Enigma machine, which has a system too detailed to get into (thankfully, the film lets us in on how it works). The man behind the first breakthrough is Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), a brilliant man who suffered a breakdown soon after breaking the code. Rumors about it have been forming ever since, and many are convinced it has something to do with Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows) and their past relationship. Jericho doesnít try to repress his fixation for Claire, asking her best friend and roommate Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet) about her, discovering that sheís been out nights and hasnít come home, and eventually entering her house and discovering an undecoded message under her floorboards. Heís later approached by secret services agent Wigram (Jeremy Northam), and the mystery begins to show itself.

Not only does the film respect its audience, but it also respects the story. There are no moments when the film simply abandons its heady thrills for a shoot-out or a battle sequence. When such a scene occurs, itís in the background, and the characters in the foreground are trying to prevent it. Itís a climactic scene, but we donít want it happening in the first place. Apted and Stoppard are content with and apt at eliciting our interest and involvement in this rather complicated mystery without easing our brains and making it all obvious. Then, going against the typical thriller, thereís an actual historical and political importance in the ultimate revelation. Suddenly, it all becomes clear, and we realize just how much the film has drawn us in. At a time when movies forgo history for dramatic effect, Enigma is all the more intriguing. Iím sure small and probably some large details have been omitted, but even so, Apted and Stoppard donít let on.

Along the way, they arenít afraid to focus their attention on the characters and allow us to understand, at least to a certain degree, why they care about this whole debacle. Dougray Scott is all internal longing and turmoil as Jericho in a performance reminiscent of Russell Croweís turn in A Beautiful Mind in that he seems to have worked from the inside out in developing his character. Flashback sequences between Jericho and Claire are also a great help. We see that Jericho was never quite the stable personality to begin with. Kate Winslet is great as the mousy intellectual who decides to take a few risks she would have never taken before, all for the benefit of figuring out what happened to her friend. Saffron Burrows has a tough role as Claire, needing to find a balance between sweet girl hurt by the difficult personality of a genius and possible spy who could have slept around with everyone in the Park, and sheís fine at it. Then thereís Jeremy Northam, whose performance would be a perfect audition to be the next James Bond. Heís all refinement as the debonair agent with an agenda all his own.

Enigma ends with a head-scratching resolution. Itís not that the conclusion is implausible or even convoluted; itís just that it requires digging up a lot of given information from the very beginning of the film and sorting it all out. It takes some time to put it all together, but even so, weíre with it all the way.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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