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Read past reviews by the Film Gang

Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Now playing at the Nickleodeon in Santa Cruz, Enigma is directed by Michael Apted and based on a novel by Robert Harris. Apted  also, surprisingly, directed Enough, now playing in the big theaters and starring Jennifer Lopez. The two movies couldn't be more different; since Apted's a Brit, Enigma makes more sense. But maybe this is just about having a penchant for movies with one-word six letter titles beginning with "e."

Enigma is a satisfying movie, though it takes a while to get up to speed with the plot. In 1943, English code-breakers at Bletchley Park, north of London, work day and night to decipher the most recent and sophisticated code the Germans have developed. Meanwhile, the English have lost track of the U Boats that are headed toward a convoy of ships in the Atlantic bearing supplies for the allies. Tom Jericho, played by Dougray Scott, is the math genius who invented a proto-computerish "thinking machine" to decipher the Enigma code. He left the project, suffering from a nervous breakdown (the result of an unhappy love affair), but has now been recalled to help crack the recent code change.

When Jericho returns, he finds that his ex-Claire Romilly, played by the way-too-thin Saffron Burrows-has gone missing. He enlists Hester, Claire's roommate (played by Kate Winslet) to help him solve this second enigma in the story.   As it turns out, British secret intelligence is also investigating her disappearance, as it seems to be suggestively connected to the suspicion that there's a spy at Bletchley Park. The investigator, Wigram-masterfully and sardonically played by Jeremy Northam-seem determined to catapult Jericho back into mental and emotional disarray. The scenes between these two men are tense, absorbing, and full of a cruelty so extraordinarily civilized it can only be called obscene.

The brilliance of the story is in the way it combines all the fast-paced excitement of an action war movie-will they crack the code in time?-in World War II period style, with the brooding, mysterious, psychologically taxing intrigue of noir mystery-what, exactly, happened to Claire Romilly?-also in period style. Plus which all the actors are cute, even the supposedly "plain" Hester (it's hard, after all, to hide Kate Winslet's delicious sensuality).

What I didn't expect to find in this movie is a tale about how women are smarter than men give them credit for. Jericho insists that Claire was an innocent pawn in a spy game among men, and he turns out to be very wrong.  But she's also not deceptive and evil, willing to betray her men and her country. On the contrary, there's manly heroism in her actions too. Hester is the one who articulates the feminist message of the movie by pointing out that in spite of all her skills and education, they made her a lowly "clerk." She proves to be a master cryptographer in her own right, solving the mystery of one of the enigmas. I guess that's where Enough and Enigma join forces as two movies that show how the world underestimates women and how women achieve their goals against the odds.

The two enigmas in this movie come together beautifully and turn out to be interconnected. At their apex is a political secret about Stalinist Russia that will determine first-world foreign policy for the half-century to follow. It is a credit to this movie that it manages to highlight the contradictions and hypocrisies of the allies in World War II so as to make us more thoughtful about our grand narratives of Good versus Evil, even in the midst of the one war where we were really sure that God was on Our side. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.

Copyright Carla Freccero 2002