Our review of Enigma, published December 4th, 2002, is also available.
"Enigma is a very sophisticated enciphering machine, and Shark is its ultimate refinement. Shark is enciphered on a special Enigma machine with a fourth rotor, designed especially for U-Boats, which gives it about four thousand million billion starting positions."
A few months back, the Cincinnati Public Library had a book sale on Fountain Square—a central gathering place in town. At the sale, you buy used books from the library starting at a quarter. Even though the books are cheap, I'm rather choosey and don't end up buying much. This time, I walked away with only six books: four paperbacks and two hardcovers.
I keep these books in a drawer at work, and I read during lunch—I always read at lunchtime. It wasn't until a few weeks later, after I finished my first book and started a second, that I made a rather odd and disturbing discovery: Of those six books, I immediately knew that two of them involved Nazis, for they both had a swastika on the cover. Coincidentally, the two books I've read, neither of which have a swastika on the cover, dealt with Nazis too. So, if you've kept count, four of the six books I bought deal with Nazis. I'm scared.
One of the books I've yet to read, one with a swastika, happens to be called Enigma. It also happens to be the basis for this movie.
Facts of the Case
Bletchley Park is the Allies' greatest secret. Located in England, this is the undisclosed location from which all of Nazi Germany's encoded messages are decrypted. Their most important job, to unravel and decode the secrets of the Enigma machine.
These machines are the key to Germany's success in this war, and the Nazis are completely confident in the cipher. But they are unaware that England has obtained a copy of the machine and is decoding every message.
Suddenly, the Nazis go to radio silence, and the Enigmas are no longer being used. The first step for the Allies in decoding Enigma is figuring out the daily setting, which is accomplished with the help of a "weather book" obtained from the Polish Intelligence service. Unfortunately, the next radio signal sent from Germany is readily understood by the codebreakers: change the book.
It appears that the Nazis may be aware that their Enigma system is vulnerable, and this could not come at a more auspicious time, for the Americans are sending over a large fleet of ships, filled with materiel for the war effort. It is believed that the Nazi U-boats are going to ambush the supply fleet, and with a new weather book, there is nothing the Ally code breakers can do to stop this mighty attack.
Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott, Mission: Impossible II, Deep Impact) is the man who found a way to quickly decrypt the daily Enigma cipher. His contribution to the war effort is without question and is considered a hero by most at Bletchley. Unfortunately, while at the Park, he falls deeply in love with Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows, Deep Blue Sea, Timecode, The Loss Of Sexual Innocence). But their affair was a troubling time for Tom, and he eventually had a breakdown and had to leave Bletchley. With this escalating crisis, he's been called back.
Strangely, Claire has disappeared at the same time, and Agent Wigram (Jeremy Northam, Gosford Park, Amistad) has been brought in to see if this is connected with the Nazi development. Of course, as Tom and she were lovers, Wigram immediately investigates Tom.
As Tom feverishly works to find a way back into Enigma, as Wigram diligently investigates whether there is a mole in Bletchley, and as the American fleet heads for disaster, time quickly slips away. To prevent a disaster, Tom must have every ounce of his intelligence to unravel this mystery. Along the way, he enlists the help of Claire's housemate, Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet, Titanic, Quills, Sense and Sensibility), who is also a clerk in the code office. Together, the two try to determine if Claire's disappearance does tie into the changing of the weather book; all the while, Tom works to save the American Fleet from disaster.
And as Tom inches closer to solving all the puzzles before him, he'll stumble across a secret that could shake the Alliance to its core.
This captivating movie will confuse you at many turns. For a good portion of the movie, you're not sure exactly what's going on. On the one side, there's the dilemma related to the Enigma machine, and, on the other, is the intertwining tale of Claire and Tom. How do they all fit together? Do they fit together?
What's wonderful about this is that the story is historically true…almost. Let's get the Hollywood fluff out of the way: all of the characters are false. The rest is true. There was and is indeed a Bletchley Park in England, and is considered one of the greatest secrets of the war. No one spoke of it for decades, and the information is still only slowly coming out. These immensely talented and intelligent individuals won the war against Germany. Without them, the Enigma machine could have made the Nazis invincible. Fortunately, we'll never know.
The Allies did find an Enigma machine, they did know of the weather book, and they did develop a miraculous way to decipher the daily code. It's all quite remarkable. Further, there was an ambush of an American supply fleet, and it did relate back to an Enigma event as detailed in the movie. As they say, history is stranger than fiction.
As mentioned earlier, this film is based upon the book by Robert Harris, an author with an affection for Nazi-related tales (always to their detriment and downfall). I've yet to read the book sitting in my desk drawer, yet I still look forward to reading it. From the bonus materials, I'm under the impression that the two are distinct enough that I'll still find the book a rewarding read.
The movie itself is an exquisitely constructed piece of work. The proof is in the details, and none look to have been missed. From the opening frames, you know you've been transported back to 1943 (with just a few minor anachronisms, of course). You may not be an historian, yet everything appears correct. From the obvious things like clothes and cars to the more subtle cues, like the headlight covers on a car driven at night, Enigma is a movie that works hard to ensure a faithful representation to the tale it wants to tell. More important than that, however, are the dazzling performances from every single actor in this film. From Tom's frazzled genius to Claire's sultriness to Hester's frustration to Wigram's relentlessness, all of the characters are richly textured and dynamically presented. Everyone is perfectly in tune with his or her part, and it all combines masterfully to ensnare you into Enigma.
Enigma is something of a rare flower in Hollywood, for it is an intelligent movie. In a sea of films with an IQ barely above toast, Enigma rises above many by entertaining you and teaching you simultaneously. It's an exciting mix of action, adventure, mystery, and suspense with enough twists and turns to keep you wondering until the end. With the full weight of World War II at its disposal, the film is faithful to the amazing tenacity of the codebreakers at Bletchley, yet it also remembers to be enjoyable.
This Special Edition disc is the second release for this film, and it has arrived barely three months after the initial bare bones release. I have not seen the original DVD so I cannot compare the two, but if this transfer is the same as the one used previously, you have nothing to fear. There's not a flaw to be seen in the anamorphic print during the presentation, and you'll enjoy the realistic colors and crisp details. Your only audio choice is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and it's a good one. Clear of any hiss or distortion, you'll hear accurate dialogue surrounded by deep bass and proficient use of the surrounds. You'll have no complaints at the end of watching this film.
The major difference in the two releases is the inclusion of a nice assortment of bonus features. As always, the first is an audio commentary by the director, Michael Apted (Enough, The World Is Not Enough). I very much enjoyed this commentary; it's very insightful and full of wonderful and informative information about the movie, unlike much of the fluff that passes for commentary these days. Apted discusses every facet of the film from script to screen. Next up is the featurette "Putting it Together" (20 minutes). This piece focuses on the involvement of Mick Jagger (yes, that Mick Jagger) in getting this film from book to screen. As I learned, Jagger is an avid WWII enthusiast, and he even owns an authentic four-wheel Enigma machine. Besides Jagger's involvement, this piece does give an overall look at the production process. The next featurette is an historical analysis of "Bletchley Park and Enigma" (17.5 minutes). I enjoyed this feature as well, as it puts the tale into the correct historical perspective, allowing you to realize the enormity of the Enigma project. Next are three deleted scenes. Normally, these are rather inconsequential cuts, but these deleted scenes made dramatic alterations to the film. You'd be surprised to see how things would have turned out if these scenes remained. And, rounding out the features are some filmographies and trailers for Enigma, Das Boot, and Enough.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As this film is couched in the truth of history, it is a shame that Enigma inadvertently belittles the hard work of those at Bletchley. How? Bletchley is the greatest secret of WWII, yet the characters parade around so much, you'd think everyone knew about the Park. A woman on a train is proudly displaying "The Bletchley Times." It's little things like this that seem to demean the historical accuracy of the film. Worse, however, is the ease at which Tom and Hester sneak around. They're prying into places they shouldn't be, looking up files, and visiting adjacent facilities; all the while no one is questioning them. Then, at the only point Wigram seems to be doing his job, he simply lets them go. He should have known better. There's no way this secret could have survived for decades if the lapses in security as evidenced in Enigma were true. It's just not possible.
Regardless, it's still a riveting film.
Have I mentioned Mick Jagger's surprising involvement in this film? Did I comment on his brief cameo? Oddly, I love Mick's acting, and he was great in Freejack, but I digress.
Did I mention Lorne Michaels' involvement yet? He actually co-owns the rights with Jagger. What an odd couple. They decided to share the rights instead of falling into a bidding war.
Of Enigma, Roger Ebert declared, "It's a brilliant film!" While I cannot exactly make the same illustrious claim, I can eagerly state that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It's a great film that is far more intelligent than most and thusly rises above them. With an excellent cast of actors, great direction, and simple yet beautiful cinematography, this movie is one that you've unfortunately missed. Now that it's on DVD in a name-worthy Special Edition, I unequivocally recommend Enigma to one and all. It will make a great addition to your collection, and you may find yourself motivated to learn more about the talents of these master codebreakers during World War II. Their dedication to the cause is wonderfully captured in this impressive film.
All charges against Enigma are hereby found to lack any merit. This movie is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Director Michael Apted
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