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Enigma
2001 - - 117 Mins.
Director: Michael Apted
Producer: Mick Jagger, Lorne Michaels
Written By: Tom Stoppard, based on the novel by Robert Harris
Starring: Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Review by: James O'Ehley
   
It is World War II. At a secret location in Britain, top mathematicians are decrypting coded messages sent by Nazi military forces.

You see, one of the deviously clever machines (called Enigma) used by the Nazis has been rescued from a sinking German sub and this has allowed the Allies to decrypt the Nazis’ messages without them knowing it.

This was such a hugely secret project (resembling the Manhattan project to build the world’s first atom bomb in some respects) that its existence was only made public knowledge in the 1970s! The revelation caused historians to radically reappraise major WWII events. Decoding Enigma gave Britain and the United States a definite edge over Germany during the war . . .

One of the brilliant mathematicians returns after suffering a nervous breakdown. A woman was involved (obviously). She is now missing and suspected of being a German spy. The mathematician is a suspect. He must clear his name; and in the meantime, the Germans have started using a new code, and as a result, a convoy of Allied supply ships crossing the Atlantic could be vulnerable to a merciless attack by German submarines. ..

Unlike many recent historical Hollywood epics (the recent “Gangs of New York” is a notable exception), “Enigma” actually has some basis in fact. Whereas movies such as “The Patriot”, “Gladiator” and “Braveheart” are so revisionist that they should be filed under the ‘Sci-Fi/Fantasy’ shelf at your local video shop, “Enigma’s” fictitious spy thriller events are framed within a more historically accurate context.

If some of the events described here seem familiar, then you have probably seen the unexpected hit submarine movie “U-571”, which was about how the Enigma machine was salvaged by the Americans. Except it wasn’t. The Enigma machine was recovered by the British at a time when America wasn’t even involved the war! See what I mean by historical revisionism!

Anyway, besides sticking to historical facts “Enigma” is an old-fashioned movie in many other ways as well: it has none of the breakneck editing that turns on-screen events into visual gibberish. No pounding techno soundtrack either. And except for the ending, it comes across as mostly credible.

Also, the screenplay is unexpectedly intelligent and complicated – so much so that while I caught the general gist of it, some plot points simply went over my head. Unfortunately, ‘general gist’ isn’t good enough and tension isn’t as sustained as it could have been. “Enigma” would have been better served if some plot points were better enunciated. For instance, a metaphor regarding a gravestone to explain how decryption works is simply murky and doesn’t clear anything up.

Despite these flaws, I however enjoyed “Enigma”, but to tell the truth, the chances are that within a few months’ time you’d forget ever having seen it at all. You see I read the best-selling book by Robert Harris on which it was based a few years back and while I could remember enjoying it at the time I couldn’t recall any of the on-screen events - a fate I’m sure the movie is bound to suffer . . .
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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