"Enigma" is the kind of movie that's rarely made anymore - an old-fashioned spy drama/thriller that manages to entertain without enormous action sequences and provide characters that have depth and intelligence. "Enigma" is directed by Michael Apted, an interesting filmmaker who has bounced between the highly acclaimed "7 Up" documentary series and enormous films like "The World Is Not Enough".
Enigma stars Dougray Scott as Tom Jericho, an ace British codebreaker who is returning to work after suffering from a breakdown due to a breakup with his love, Claire (Saffron Burrows). At the same time that Tom has returned, Claire has gone missing, leading Tom to ponder if he'd revealed more than he should've about his operations when the two were together.
Meanwhile, the Germans have switched encryption methods and it's up to Tom to break back into the German's upgraded technology before a wave of German U-boats can converge on an shipping convoy. It's up to Tom and co-worker Hester Wallace (a very attractive and energetic Kate Winslet) to follow the trail that Claire has left to see if she in fact has anything to do with the situation. Meanwhile, Secret Service agent Wigram (Northam) is on the trailer of Hester and Tom.
Interestingly, "Engima" starts off a bit slowly; I found it a little difficult to get a read on the characters and tone of the movie. Once Winslet's character becomes involved though, the film starts pushing forward with more urgency and turns more involving. Director Michael Apted is even able to mine an impressive amount of suspense and tension from a fairly simple scene where Tom and Hester are trying to break the codes while their persuers are just down the road, having a difficult time trying to drive through the mud.
The performances are excellent; Scott is gruff and depressed, but with an undercurrent of intensity that keeps the character from being a gloomy bore; Winslet is sharply funny and sweet as Hester and Jeremy Northam seems to be auditioning as Pierce Brosnan's 007 replacement as the witty secret agent - but it works.
The film only has one considerable flaw, but it certainly doesn't suffer greatly from it. It's a bit difficult to believe that the Burrows character could have caused Tom to have a breakdown when she left him - there's really not enough to the flashbacks to provide that convincing a romance between the two. Other than that, I certainly didn't have any other major concerns about the picture. Tom Stoppard's screenplay is not afraid of keeping ahead of the audience; this is not a picture where characters stop and talk to one another for five minutes about what's happening in the plot when we already know. This is an intricate story that becomes increasingly twisty towards the end - along the way it rewards attention and patience.
I enjoy a well-crafted action picture as much as anyone else; even though it certainly didn't follow history, I very much enjoyed Jonathan Mostow's American counterpart to this film, "U-571". But, it's a rare treat when a film like "Enigma" comes along - a picture that gains suspense and tension from mainly dialogue-driven sequences that are given a terrific undercurrent of urgency and intensity by wonderful direction and great performances. My one real dissapointment is that the film seems to be only getting a small-ish release when I believe that it has greater potential than that.