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Thu May 30, 2002
When "Enigma" is real, it’s good intrigue...
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
My favorite Michael-Apted directed work is "Thunderheart," the tragic tale about struggles between the FBI and Indians in the Dakotas in the 70's. His recent "Enigma" again treats history, this time the British breaking of the Nazi secret code in WWII at Bletchley, the busy estate of British decrypters.
In "Thunderheart" romance was a small subplot because the plight of Indians like the Sioux was too powerful to subsume. In "Enigma" Apted has allowed a shallow relationship between the brainy decrypter Tom Jericho(Dougray Scott) and gorgeous Bletchley colleague Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows). Her mysterious disappearance brings in her plain roommate, Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet), to help Jericho find Romilly while German submarines are threatening the largest supply convoy in history in the North Atlantic.
It’s just that romance doesn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to decoding the German plans for U-boat operations, but Apted plays the romance as central. Add the roommate as a new love for the troubled "Beautiful-Mind" like hero, and the "enigma" becomes possible betrayal of love and country rather than the fascinating process of breaking the code by using the Germans' captured enigma machine.
The film, however, has some delights: Jeremy Northam as British intelligence operative Wigram is superb, reminding us that the current craze for Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant is misdirected—Northam is a superior cad.
The wit of a Carol Reed’s thriller like "Night Train to Munich" or any Graham Greene spy story is my taste in intrigue, but super-star writer Tom Stoppard does have a moment or two here, as when the hero’s previous breakdown is described: "Went off his trolley, didn't he -- about some girl?" I just wish there were more of that and less madness over the girl.
By the way, if you see "U-571"(2000) about Americans capturing the enigma machine, don't believe it. The Brits got the first one back in 1941. Let's stick to the facts and jettison the fancy—reality in WWII is far more interesting. When "Enigma" is real, it’s good intrigue.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time" and vice-chairs the board of the Film Council of Greater Columbus.