Full Report > 01.24.2001
Sends Satisfying Signals.
Despite a few flurries of narrative fuzziness,
"Enigma" ultimately emerges as an intelligent, involving and intricately
plotted thriller with respectable theatrical prospects and strong
home video potential. (Producer Mick Jagger's involvement may
also boost publicity efforts.) Set primarily in and around Bletchley
Park, the top-secret H.Q. for British code-breakers during World
War II, Enigma is sufficiently compelling in a timeless fashion
to interest even ticketbuyers who weren't yet alive when the Vietnam
War ended. Once again, director Michael Apted ("Gorky Park," "Extreme
Measures") demonstrates his sure hand at crafting smartly suspenseful
entertainment. Adapted by Tom Stoppard from a well-regarded novel
by Robert Harris, "Enigma" revolves around an unlikely hero: Tom
Jericho (Dougray Scott), a brilliant but psychologically vulnerable
mathematician. Through flashbacks and expository dialogue, Enigma
fixes Jericho as a key player in cracking the code used by the
German navy that communicated with Enigma cipher machines, devices
that resemble a hybrid of manual typewriter and telephone switchboard.
Unfortunately, the stress of his work -- and his rejection by
co-worker and ex-lover Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows) -- drove
Jericho to a nervous breakdown.
as Hester Wallace in Enigma.
Plot begins in March 1943, as Jericho returns from his
enforced leave of absence to the Bletchley Park complex north
of London. Despite the serious misgivings of his autocratic supervisor
(Robert Pugh), Jericho is recalled to service because the Nazis
have changed their Enigma transmission code at a singularly inconvenient
time: Three massive Allied shipping convoys have just left New
York, loaded with supplies to sustain the British war effort.
Shortly after his return, Jericho learns that Claire has inexplicably
disappeared. Worse, he finds undeciphered transcripts of intercepted
German navy signals in her house. Jericho can't help suspecting
the worst, especially when he's heard rumors of a German agent
working inside Bletchley.
Even so, he's still hopelessly, helplessly in love, and,
despite his shaky mental state, he tries to use his problem-solving
expertise to find her before she's located by Wigram (Jeremy Northam),
a British intelligence agent on the trail of the alleged mole.
Claire's housemate, Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet), another Bletchley
employee, reluctantly agrees to expedite Jericho's investigation,
and their collaboration brings them progressively closer. But
Jericho remains obsessed with finding Claire, even as he takes
part in a frantic effort to break the new Enigma code.
Imaginatively reconfiguring a couple of scenes from Harris'
novel, Apted and Stoppard effectively intercut between the desperate
maneuverings of the Bletchley Park team and Hester's solo attempt
to decipher the coded messages pilfered by Claire. The true importance
of the info gleaned by Claire only gradually becomes clear, however,
somewhat diminishing the dramatic impact of her discovery. Enigma
also stumbles during sporadic flashbacks that tend to confuse
almost as much as they illuminate.
Right from the start, "Enigma" demands close attention.
Audiences unwilling or unable to make the extra effort will be
left scratching their heads. Indeed, even viewers who focus intently
on every scene may find it challenging to connect the dots during
a couple of key transitions. Overall, "Enigma" plays fair and
square while generating suspense with its twisty plot. And while
it requires a generous suspension of disbelief to accept a few
action-hero gestures by the deeply troubled Jericho, Scott is
persuasive and compelling enough as his complex character to drive
as Hester Wallace in Enigma.
Without trying to turn "Enigma" into a self-conscious,
standard-issue Hitchcock homage, Apted and his players slyly evoke
the spirit of the Master of Suspense's early British thrillers.
As the subtly intimidating and smugly sardonic Wigram, Northam
often appears to be channeling the Cary Grant of "Notorious" and
"Suspicion." And Winslet's winning portrayal of the plucky Hester
deserves flattering comparisons to renderings of similarly resourceful
femme characters in "The 39 Steps" and "The Lady Vanishes." (It
should be noted that Winslet -- bespectacled and unabashedly zaftig
-- looks appropriately unglamorous. Tabloid gossips and snippy
critics will doubtless make snide remarks about her weight.)
The only weak link in the "Enigma" ensemble is Burrows.
It's not that she does anything glaringly wrong. It's just that
she doesn't have enough dazzling screen presence and old-fashioned
glam-packed allure to allow the audience to fully appreciate the
double meaning of the title. Tech values are splendid. Of particular
note is production designer John Beard's replication of the massive
"thinking machine" -- a '40s forerunner of today's mainframe computers
-- used by the Bletchley Park team to decipher Enigma transmissions.
By the way, Enigma briefly but pointedly emphasizes that, regardless
of what you might have been told in "U-571," U.S. forces had nothing
whatsoever to do with the initial capture of Enigma machines from
Courtesy of > Reuters/Varity
by > Joe Leydon