Enigma

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Enigma

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Enigma

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When U-571 was released in 2000, its historical inaccuracies sparked a small flurry of protest. Playing fast and loose with the facts, the solid but unextraordinary WWII action film portrayed the capture of the German encoding machine Enigma as an almost solely American enterprise. That's unfair to history and the people who made it. But if Enigma, a suspense film involving the use of the Enigma machine, is in any way meant as a corrective, chalk one up for Yankee cultural imperialism. Directed by Michael Apted and scripted by Tom Stoppard, Enigma achieves a dullness that defies its pedigree and its story's potential. A convincingly haggard Dougray Scott stars as a mathematical genius who returns to the north-of-London intellectual frontlines after a sabbatical necessitated by a nervous breakdown. Flashbacks reveal the source of his woe: Saffron Burrows, an icy blonde whose mysterious disappearance seems somehow tied to British Intelligence's recent troubles interpreting the latest German broadcasts. As U-boats threaten to intercept a massive U.S. supply caravan, Scott's personal obsession starts to dovetail with his professional life, and with the help of signal-transcriber Kate Winslet, he sets out to break the code and solve the mystery of Burrows' disappearance. With all the elements in place for the sort of transcendent intellectual parlor game that's made Stoppard famous—or at the very least a stimulating thriller—the film seems curiously shy about delivering. Maybe Stoppard and Apted simply took the idea of paying tribute to the codebreakers too far. They choose to fill the screen with so much talk about code, and so little proper explanation, that only a dedicated cryptologist could appreciate it. Under the ciphering is even less than meets the eye. From its brilliant-but-troubled hero to its frumpy-but-underappreciated heroine, Enigma looks like a collection of secondhand goods. Only Jeremy Northam, acting like Cary Grant in a foul mood, offers glimpses of Stoppard's wit. Playing a roguish, sharp-tongued intelligence agent, he steals his scenes so effectively that it's hard not to wish the film were about him, instead of the ashen eggheads who saved the world from fascism one key-click at a time.

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