ninth symphony films - movie reviews

ENIGMA (2002)

DIRECTOR  -  michael apted

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  117 minutes

RELEASED  -  19 april 2002

DISTRIBUTOR  -  manhattan pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  enigma

enigma - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from enigma at

buy the dvd from enigma at

a young genius frantically races against time to crack an enemy code and solve the mystery surrounding the woman he loves.

mick jagger owned an original four-rotor enigma encoding machine which he loaned to the film for historical accuracy in constructing props.


picture from enigma

picture from enigma

picture from enigma


three out of four possible stars

The filmmakers of Enigma should be congratulated on their ability to make a rather staid subject come alive in a dramatic and absorbing film. For a film that details the complicated numerical codes used during World War II for secret communication, the subject of the film might cause some potential viewers to feel intimidated by the subject matter, as much of the plot deals with complicated mathematical calculations. And while the film has not the explosions of a film that takes place on the front lines of that war, the emotion in this film still makes heroes out of people who never saw the front.

Starring Dougray Scott as an emotionally wrecked mathematical genius, in a role that distances himself from the action villain role he played in the recent Mission Impossible 2, his character, “Tom Jericho,” is a man desperate to find the truth behind the disappearance of his lover. His partner during this investigation, a rather frumpily put together Kate Winslet (though still beautiful even through her glasses and plaid skirts), helps him, reluctantly at first, in finding clues to "Claire Romilly’s" disappearance (played by Saffron Burrows). Their quest to find the truth is a complicated one, but also an interesting one, as there are many twists and turns in the story that keep the audience hooked.

If one were to dissect the plot of Enigma, the way the screenwriter mirrored the missing person search with the historically accurate drama of code breaking, one would see that this film does not proceed in a linear fashion. Like one of the codes its characters break, Enigma is a multi-faceted screenplay with many ideas thrown at the audience. The filmmakers assume that their audience is an intelligent one and in no way make their story "easy to understand" or at all predictable. On story merits alone, this film has a screenplay that sits at the top of the thriller genre. And if the film toys with a running time that probably could have been cut by a few minutes, that blunder isn’t one that completely dooms the picture.

If anything, films that lean more on drama than comedy often boast longer running times, and given that Enigma stands firmly in the shoes of a drama, its running time is longer than most. And in point of fact, the lack of comedy throughout the film almost hurts the picture because the gravity of the situation the characters face is so heavy for so long. Though there are a few jokes in the film, they are not ones that inspire any sort of belly laugh. And given that there is quite a large cast for the film, certainly some humor could have been inserted into the roles of a few of the stock supporting characters (all very well played) for a moment of absurdity or two.

It is in the human condition to laugh during even the most serious moments, so perhaps the screenwriter left an important element out by making the film more serious than it had to be. After all, the film would have made just as strong an impact emotionally had there been more humor. And the fact that the main characters (played by Winslet and Scott) are not always in the forefront of the film seems to have been a mistake on either the editor or screenwriter’s part as well, since it is the burgeoning love story between the two characters which plays so well in conjunction with the code breaking. But the lack of focus aside, the topic covered in the film has not been brought to the screen before, and that victory alone should lessen the impact of the lack of humor and single-mindedness.

And since the story does deal with multiple story-lines, all which affect the main characters, perhaps it is asking too much for more focus on a rather complicated. And given that other elements such as the cinematography, art direction, and soundtrack were all excellent, there is certainly more to focus on in this film, if one is so intelligent as to become bored with the story. Which seems like it might be an unlikely occurrence, given the many bits and pieces of this story that are revealed simultaneously to the audience. One of the most interesting aspects is the explanation of the code breaking device, used by the Germans, which the British were so desperate to crack. The “Enigma” machines are nearly as complex as the human characters themselves, becoming highly personified because of their importance to the story.

With so many different successful elements to focus upon, viewers of this film need not worry that it is more of an intellectual journey than an action movie. It is doubtful that many people will know of this story (the film is based on fact) before they see it, so knowing that events like the one in the film actually took place, makes the story that much more stimulating. While there are a few drawbacks in story and focus, the film is still a well made suspense piece that will engage the minds of audiences and give them a fresh angle on World War II.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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