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    A cure for the common code

    "Enigma" doesn't succumb to the schmaltzy reflexes of historical romances in smartly dramatizing the breaking of the Germans' Enigma code — and don't miss the score by one on England's most accomplished film composers.


    In 1979, veteran British film composer John Barry wrote the score for Peter Hyams's WWII romantic tearjerker "Hanover Street" featuring a youthful Harrison Ford as an American fighter pilot in love with Lesley-Anne Down's army nurse. Twenty-odd years later Barry is back with "Enigma," another WWII drama starring Dougray Scott ("Ever After") and Kate Winslet, a film that "Enigma" director Michael Apted believes Barry was "born to score."

    Directed by: Michael Apted.
    Written by: Tom Stoppard.
    Cast: Corin Redgrave, Tom Hollander, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Dougray Scott, Jeremy Northam, Kate Winslet, Saffron Burrows, Nikolaj Coster..
    Score by: John Barry.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    The films open very similarly, in fact — a crane shot of a bustling London street, the putt-putt-putt of a double-decker bus as it pulls away from the curb, a man noticing a woman amid the hustle and the bustle and the pigeons taking flight. And Barry's distinctive and melodic love theme on the soundtrack, of course, a simple piano motif backed by lush strings.

    But soon thereafter the two films diverge — "Hanover Street" quickly deteriorated into cornball melodrama, with dialogue of the "tell her I died a brave man" kind whereas "Enigma" smartly substitutes history for histrionics, emerging as a solid war-torn drama that successfully mixes action with intrigue and romance.

    Surprisingly, given the cast (the film also stars an unrecognizable Saffron Burrows and "Gosford Park's" Jeremy Northam as an oily interloper), the romance is toned way down in the film, leaving room for historical perspective and intellect, as the lives of Britain's Bletchley Park code breakers circa 1943 are put on the pedestal for all to see. This is reflected in the film's main title theme, as Barry's score quickly segues from delicate love theme to threatening action music. Piano and strings give way to snare drum and timpani as images of decoding machines — cogs and wheels, lamps and typewriter keyboards — fill the screen. Then we're out into the high Atlantic, as the biggest convoy of merchant shipping vessels the Allies have ever mustered, carrying timber, bauxite, and powdered milk, head for England with circling German U-boats close in.

    The code those at Bletchley Park need to crack, among them the Cambridge-educated Tom Jericho (Scott), who was shipped back to his alma mater for a month of psychiatric observation following a breakdown over a woman, Claire Romilly (Burrows), now missing in action, is the one the U-boats are currently using to communicate using a sophisticated decoding machine known as Enigma.

    Kate Winslet plays Claire's best friend and former roommate Hester Wallace, a bespectacled Bletchley Park file clerk who helps Tom in his quest to find a "crib," the solution to a complex web of gobbledygook transmitted via Morse code — there are the requisite sidebars into no-go areas marked "file room" and compromising paperwork stuffed into inside breast pockets — and knickers!

    "Enigma" is a little different insomuch as handsome leading man Scott isn't a glammed-up, buttoned-down Tom Cruise-type but a bitter, slightly scruffy genius with a lot on his mathematical mind. Winslet too is toned down some in terms of her looks and sex appeal; the two come together through their mutual respect for each other's work. Apted (whose previous film, coincidentally, was the latest James Bond 007 extravaganza "The World is Not Enough" — composer Barry practically invented the James Bond sound in the early '60s) clearly went looking for a character study by way of a history lesson rather than a romance masquerading within a historical context, and "Enigma" has a gritty, realistic edge to it as a result.

    In addition to its impressive cast, director, and original score credits, "Enigma" is written by playwright Tom Stoppard (based on the book by Robert Harris) and produced by one Mick Jagger and "Saturday Night Live's" Lorne Michaels of all persons! And as a showcase for the talents of its Oscar-winning composer, "Enigma" is a cracking coda.

    AUGUST 31, 2002

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  • Enigma   from litacruz, Mar 26, 2004

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