(movie review written in March, 2002)
"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 (Jeremy 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 (although I doubt it'll happen since the film was hardly seen, I still think Scott, Winslet and Northam should get awards consideration for thie roles). My one real disapointment is that the film seems to be only getting a small-ish release when I believe that it has greater potential than that.
VIDEO: "Enigma" was first released on DVD nearly a year ago. That transfer was a disaster - the presentation seemed to suffer from just about every one of the usual flaws that can be found on a DVD presentation. Beyond that, I've heard quite a few reports that the disc simply didn't work on some players. That transfer was listed on the back of that box as being "mastered in high definition", which didn't seem to make an awful lot of difference, given the quality. The presentation for this new Special Edition re-release is also presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and notes on the back that the film has been "re-mastered in high definition". Although I don't have the original edition for a more detailed comparison, I do have good news and bad news.
The good news is that this presentation appears to be a noticable improvement over the prior release. The bad news is that some of the issues from the prior release do return once again here. Sharpness and detail are better than the previous edition - the picture appears moderately well-defined, if never sleek. The film didn't have a slick appearance theatrically, either (nor should it, given the material), but this presentation does appear to offer a greater level of (and more consistent) definition than the first disc.
The bad news? Edge enhancement returns again here, and in rather mild amounts at times. However, it appears less frequently here than in the prior release. The print also seems cleaner here; there's still specks and the occasional mark here-and-there, but neither grain nor wear (a couple of moments from the prior release where I'd noted a particularly noticable mark or scratch didn't show up here - this appears to be a different print?) seem as much of an issue this time around. A few traces of pixelation appear briefly in a few scenes, as does some slight shimmering.
By no means is this a particularly colorful movie, but the film's basic color palette looked a little bolder here than it did on the prior release, where colors looked bland and rather faded. Black level looked solid here, while flesh tones were accurate. Still not a presentation without concerns, but this presentation made for a much more pleasant viewing experience than the last release.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The sound quality thankfully does fare considerably better than the video quality. While a dialogue-driven effort for the most part, John Barry's outstanding orchestral score is one of my favorites of the year and does sound wonderful here. Surrounds actually do get a fair amount of involvement here, as they provide reinforcement for Barry's score and a nice helping of ambient sounds. Dialogue remained crisp and clear throughout, as did the score. The 5.1 presentation here seems to be the same one as the prior release.
EXTRAS: The film's release wasn't particularly handled well on DVD. Aside from the noticable problems with the first release, this "Special Edition" was - according to some reports - already in the works when the first release was put out. At any rate, this release does provide some enjoyable and informative supplements regarding the making of the film.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Michael Apted. The director provides an extremely enjoyable and intelligent discussion of all aspects of "Enigma". The film found itself with a very long road to the screen, and Apted discusses the years spent trying to get the screenplay and right cast together, as well as financing and distribution. In terms of the screenplay, he also talks about trying to find the right balance between complex and too complex to try and involve the audience and not turn them off. Apted also goes into more detail about the film's visual style, working with the actors, casting, history and stories from the set. This is an excellent track, certainly worth a listen.
Putting it All Together: This is a 20-minute "making of" documentary, which features from director Michael Apted, producer Mick Jagger (yes, that Mick Jagger), the film's technical consultant, novelist Robert Harris and other members of the crew and cast. There's some fine information at times here, but the documentary is awfully interview-heavy, with only a handful of scattered "behind-the-scenes" footage to break it up.
Bletchley Park & Enigma: This informative 18-minute documentary has author Robert Harris, the cast (who met with and were advised by those who worked at Bletchley Park) and others discussing their thoughts on the events at Bletchley Park and the background behind what went on there.
Also: 3 deleted scenes, filmographies and trailers for "Enigma", "Enough" and "Das Boot".
Final Thoughts: "Enigma", I feel, has gotten better with every viewing. It's an intelligent, well-written and expertly acted drama - it's too bad that it took a release before the film actually got another DVD release that does it justice. While not flawless, this new Special Edition does offer improved image quality, good sound and fine supplements. Recommended.