Thursday, June 30, 2016

Enigma

2/4

Starring: Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Tom Hollander, Matthew MacFayden

Rated R for A Sex Scene and Language

There is something intrinsically exciting about a World War II movie.  The deadliest and most complex conflict in human history, the number of stories that can be told about that conflict (real and fictitious) are limitless.  "Enigma," based on the novel by Robert Harris, is one such story, but after watching it I would have rather spent my time and money watching something else.

With a pedigree like this, it's rare that a movie turns out to be this bad.  It was directed by Michael Apted, acclaimed for his documentary franchise "The Up Series" and the James Bond flick "The World is Not Enough."  The screenplay was written by playwright Tom Stoppard, who wrote the grossly overrated "Shakespeare in Love" and Terry Gilliam's cult classic "Brazil."  It was produced by Lorne Michaels (yes, the guy behind "Saturday Night Live") and Mick Jagger (of The Rolling Stones).  And it stars four of the most versatile performers from across the Atlantic: Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam and Saffron Burrows.  How could this be bad?

Let's start with the screenplay, which is hopelessly convoluted for a story this simple.  Most of the time, it doesn't make a lot of sense.  When it doesn't, you realize how little substance there is beneath the double talk and codebreaking mumbo-jumbo.  Apted can't be forgotten either.  He tries, with little success, to make things clearer by inserting flashbacks, but they don't work.  He also fails to create an acceptable atmosphere.  Rather than a life-and-death game of solving a murder with global implications, it feels like the characters are playing Nancy Drew at a posh summer camp.  And when everything is finally revealed, I was left thinking...that's it?

Tom Jericho (Scott) is returning to Bletchley Park after a month away recuperating from a nervous breakdown.  His old flame, Claire (Burrows), is missing, and despite the presence of a sinister agent named Wigram (Northam), he and her roommate Hester Wallace (Winslet) set out to find her.  Meanwhile, the Germans have figured out that their Enigma code machine has been broken and have shut out the Brits.  On top of that, there may be a traitor in their midst.

The performances are fine, which is as close to a saving grace as the film can manage; had they been flat or worse, the film would have been unwatchable.  Dougray Scott is good as the passionate yet awkward Jericho, is an effective anchor for the film.  His relationship with Claire is so rushed that it's only because of him that it has any sort of resonance.  There isn't anything that Kate Winslet can't do, so her appearance in a movie as troubled as this is a blessing.  Jeremy Northam acts sinister; something that he is uncannily good at.  The weak link is Saffron Burrows.  Burrows is a good actress and looks great in '40s garb and soft lighting, but lacks the magnetism to really pull this kind of role off.

By happy coincidence, there is another movie about the Enigma code machine that is more suspenseful and compelling: "The Imitation Game" with Benedict Cumberbatch.  I could also add "U-571" to that list, but there the Enigma machine is more of a McGuffin.  Still, they're both excellent movies.  My advice is to watch those and leave this one for the dust shelves at Netflix.


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