Enigma

on April 19, 2002 by Annlee Ellingson
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   Recalling the espionage thrillers of a bygone era, "Enigma" is classically photographed, tightly scripted cinema set in a super secret code-breaking center in Britain during World War II (so secret that its very existence was kept quiet for decades after the war). It's March 1943, and mathematician Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) has broken the Nazis' communications code without their knowing it, using a stolen Enigma machine. But the enemy unexpectedly changes the code, switching from a three-letter system to one that uses four, and with a supply convoy from the United States crossing the Atlantic, Jericho and his team have just a few days to accomplish what initially took him 10 months to do.

   Meanwhile, Jericho's superiors doubt his stability, as he has just returned from a stint in a mental hospital, having suffered a nervous breakdown after a brief, passionate affair with Claire (Saffron Burrows), who has subsequently vanished under mysterious circumstances, leaving incriminating documents stolen from the compound hidden under her floorboards. With the help of Claire's roommate Hester (Kate Winslet), Jericho attempts to track her down, ultimately uncovering a vast conspiracy that indicates there's a spy in their midst.

   Screenwriter Tom Stoppard's modifications to the novel by Robert Harris set the climactic scenes simultaneously, cross-cutting between Jericho cracking the Nazis' new system with Hester decoding the discovered documents using the old system--upping the pace as well as giving the Hester character something more to do than stand by and watch Jericho do all the work. But then simplicity falls by the wayside, and complex plot points are quickly introduced that could easily lose an audience not paying close attention.

   Director Michael Apted and Stoppard set as much of the film as possible in the lush British countryside and out of the bookish interiors of the code-breaking barracks, and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey takes full advantage of the opportunity, juxtaposing the characters' wartime setting with peaceful surroundings such as placid lakes, jaunty dirt roads and golden cornfields.

   Scott here is dour and brooding--a far cry from the baby-faced prince he played in "Ever After" or the handsome villain in "Mission: Impossible 2"--in a performance that lends credibility to his acting ability if it doesn't endear him to viewers. Likewise, Winslet is plain and downright dowdy in large, horn-rimmed spectacles, a departure from her recent alluring roles in "Titanic" and "Quills," but, as always, luminous. Starring Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam and Saffron Burrows. Directed by Michael Apted. Written by Tom Stoppard. Produced by Mick Jagger and Lorne Michaels. No distributor set. Spy thriller. Not yet rated. Running time: 110 min

Tags: Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows, Michael Apted, Tom Stoppard, Mick Jagger, Lorne Michaels, Spy thriller, conspiracy, Nazi, World War II, espionage
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