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Heroes of the Zeroes: Enigma

by on April 9, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Enigma”
Rated R
2001

Crack, convert, repeat. That could be a credo of the wartime code-breaker, a job whose vigilance pays off incrementally at best and whose success lasts only as long as the enemy retains the same symbols.

What sounds drab becomes, in 2001’s “Enigma,” the springboard for a dizzyingly detailed, but intellectually invigorating, look at the philosophical wages and opportunity costs of World War II.

Michael Apted directed this cerebral, cloudy little-known thriller, produced by strange bedfellows (Mick Jagger and “SNL” impresario Lorne Michael), co-starring Kate Winslet (bookishly sexy behind Harry Potter spectacles) and aided by a lush John Barry score (the most recent feature-length work for this legendary composer).

Tom (Dougray Scott, purposefully resembling Jimmy Stewart in “Vertigo”) is a dour British brainiac at code-breaking camp Bletchley Park, cracking a tough German U-Boat code while investigating the disappearance of his leggy lover, Claire (Saffron Burrows).

Aided by her roommate, Hester (Winslet), Tom discovers the peril of decoding the dirty business behind wartime alliances, atrocities, propaganda and procedure.

Scott gives his best performance, tapping out Claire’s name in Morse code as a tic, tortured by tattered memories of both her attentiveness and abandonment and convinced that applying his mathematical mind to her behavior will bring her back.

Meanwhile, Tom Stoppard’s script, inspired by historical events, commands attention with daring, dizzying twists, betrayals and manipulations, and Apted’s pace crackles throughout.

An intelligent examination of the dangerous impulse to categorize the unpredictable or unthinkable, “Enigma” resurrected Alfred Hitchcock’s best thinking-man elements.

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