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Enigma | Review

You Sunk My Battleship!

Despite some annoyances, Enigma intrigues enough too stay afloat.

A little espionage, some polite romance built-into a narrative that reintroduces the forgotten British heroes of the factual events of World War II is Michael Apted newest piece. Definitely not your typical war flick or typical onscreen romance- Enigma illustrates the uncanny night and day duty of some of Britain’s smartest to decipher the impenetrable code system of an SS Germany. Though it contains the male-female passion interludes, the backdrop of a country in wartime turmoil and many subplots such as the spy among friends issue- this is definitely not the next English Patient.

The introduction is very telling of the kind of pressure and amount of stress that these people faced-the main character being the man with the greatest tension on one’s shoulder-being the prodigy code breaking genius Tom Jericho played by Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible II ) with the ruffled up shirt and dark circles under the eyes. Flashbacks galore tell us that the missing blonde- Saffron Burrows (Gangster No.1) plays a key role in his life and in the film. The remaining cast is filled in with the Nancy Drew companionship of another code breaker Kate Winslet (Iris) and the presence of the higher-ranking individual played by Jeremy Northam (Possession) as Wilgram looking sharp in his era-styled hat. The characters are complex enough too merit the question- who has a hidden agenda? and is there a joker among the deck of players? Secrets are revealed and this is fortunately the worthy part of this picture, especially when the film’s visual narrative seems a little restrained- U-boats have never looked so unassuming with the majority of the film sequences and scenes looking nothing like one of Apted’s last flicks- The World is Not Enough-not much to look with only period costumes and no eye-candy, heck even the code-breaker is uninteresting with the typewriter keys and three turning combination device. I found that the code-breaking machine does contain a bit of mystery and intrigue but giving me every single detail about the device is less interesting than what it’s actually utility is and the one scene where it is shown in prominence is kind of like when E.T gets his toys taken away-I would have loved to see someone pull out a gun or threaten to bust the thing in a million pieces rather than the being ‘caught in the process’ dilemma.

The ‘reel’ treat comes with the mounting subplots and the questions that one raises from watching the plot unfold. What are those Germans up to? and what are the motives of the principle characters? It makes the dull pace of the film more tolerable with the ‘more than meets the eye’ script. But what I don’t understand is how the presence of a war makes for a ‘gripping-less’ wartime crisis, perhaps it is the nature of the trade-the no trenches with a gun environment that makes it hard to drive up suspense-but the moment that the red-telephone lit up there was almost no reaction to the loss of lives! My main critique is the lack of tensioned-scenes with hardly any dramatic overtones, they either look muffled up, unimportant or lack in atmospheric detail. Michael Apted’s Enigma is intended for an audience that doesn’t need the wow in the visual but rather the plotline and the yum in character descriptions and with a combination of historical references, wartime alliance positions and a the spy-tendencies we have a film worth watching.

Rating 3 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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