Some books are not meant to become movies. High Fidelity is a good example. Nick Hornby’s great novel of a lovelorn slacker is loaded with insightful, funny rants on why guys do the things they do in relationships. The novel works because you can take the time to appreciate Hornby’s writing. In a two-hour movie, it didn’t work very well.
The same issue plagues Enigma, based on Robert Harris’ best selling novel. There are so many details about how military codes are broken, the equipment that’s needed, and so on that background information overwhelms the movie’s plot of intrigue. And that’s a pretty hefty accomplishment, considering the talent involved.
The movie takes place in the heat of World War II at England’s Bletchley Park, where in real-life the world’s best code breakers tried to keep up with the Nazis. Due to a change in how the Nazis prepare their codes, the geniuses at Bletchley have mere days to break the new code, track the Nazis’ position and save their Allied friends in the process.
Troubled code breaker Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) is onto something — that is, if he can stay ahead of his supervisors and a clever British secret service agent (Jeremy Northam). Jericho’s now missing ex-lover, Claire (Saffron Burrows), hid some codes sent by the Germans, and the Bletchley Park staff has no record of them. So, with help from her roommate (Kate Winslet) and the titular machine (which the Germans also use), Jericho has to determine what Claire’s codes mean before disaster strikes.
In theory, this should be exciting. You have Nazis. You have spies. You have shady goings on. The screenplay by Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love), however, is largely explanatory, setting up future scenes and characters with little oomph. Most of the best twists come in the movie’s last 20 minutes, and even those revelations are lost in a morass that includes a minor character and a long-forgotten plot point.
Enigma is not bad. I left the theater having learned some history, and the acting was solid. But there’s little fun and daring do to be found. Michael Apted’s direction lacks urgency and importance, which is odd for a movie involving a World War. Except for flashbacks involving Claire and Tom’s brief affair, Apted provides little that is visually exciting. The production values are first-rate, especially the wardrobe, but in a military mystery/thriller that’s the last thing that should catch anyone’s attention. Do you remember the suits Will Patton wore in No Way Out?
The only actor who really enlivens the proceedings is Northam, who steals about every scene he’s in. Of course, he’s one of the few actors not talking about short wave frequencies. And therein lies the movie’s main flaw — it’s too steeped in the technical side. What if A Beautiful Mind really dealt with John Nash’s battle with physics? Would you still want to watch it? Answer that and you’ll know if Enigma is right for you.
This is war, not jogging!