Breaking the Code 

*Enigma (R)
Manhattan Pictures International

Long live the geeks, for they win us wars. After all, who do you think creates all those "smart bombs," satellite tracking systems and laser-guided missiles?

This is not a new phenomenon, friends, oh no. During WWII, there was a huge phalanx of Allied geeks whose job it was to break the outrageously complex Nazi code known as Enigma. The code breakers were all over Europe, and in England they were centered at a top-secret English manor known as Bletchley Park. Bletchley was so secret that the British government only publicly admitted its existence in the 1970s, some 30 years after the war.

But algorithms, and the geeks who make them, aren't all that sexy themselves, so around this basic truth Robert Harris wrote a potboiler novel, Enigma, which was then turned into a screenplay by Tom Stoppard for director Michael Apted, produced by Lorne Michaels and Mick Jagger -- yes, that Mick Jagger.

In the hands of all these writers, producers and directors, Enigma the story becomes equally a thriller, a love story and a mystery. Mathematician and crack code breaker Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) has just returned to Bletchley Park after recovering from a nervous breakdown that was largely caused by a failed love affair with the beautiful and mysterious Claire (Saffron Burrows) who was also working at Bletchley. Despite his unstable state, the powers that be have called him back because the Nazis have changed their Enigma code and they need him to break it again -- in four days, before a huge convoy of supply ships gets torpedoed.

Meanwhile, Claire has disappeared from Bletchley and both her roommate Hester (Kate Winslet) and the creepy secret agent Wigram (Jeremy Northam) are poking around looking for her, and Jericho gets in on the act.

Enigma is a decent thriller and I will confess to my heart racing around about the middle of the movie when the code breakers are closing in on the Nazis, the Nazis are closing in on the convoy of ships, and our hero and heroine are closing in on the mystery that will decide the fate of the war, while the police are closing in on them.

Nevertheless, be prepared to be confused throughout much of the movie. Not only are there several plots and subplots to be untangled, but the concept of Enigma itself -- the code, that is -- is rather complicated.

Don't let it shake you, though. Instead, ignore the flaws and succumb to the pleasures of this historical thriller. You'll be rewarded with dotty Englishness, fine performances, and a faithful reconstruction of wartime England. In my book, such a marriage of complex algorithms, fabulous millinery and wartime romance is perfect for a sultry August afternoon.

-- Andrea Lucard


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