‘Enigma’ a mysterious solution to fall blues

By Gus Bode

Going to the movies during the dull days of fall is a bit like playing Russian roulette with both your patience and your pocketbook; either way, you’re probably going to get screwed over, and you’ll be forced to watch something deemed not punchy enough for the summer and not teary enough for the winter.

It’s the season of tired retreads, second-hand sequels and senseless tripe that should have never seen the working end of a Hollywood soundstage. Pity us all, for the only escape lies three months away.

Which is why holding on to any glimmer of artistic integrity, regardless of how dry it may be, is a must as we plow through this empty desert of film-going limbo. To pick apart the faults of “Enigma,” a brooding whodunit involving World War II code-breakers and lost love, would be too easy. It’s slow. It’s emotionally distant. It tries to be a few notches better than what it really is.

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But at the same time, it doesn’t suck, and that’s saying a lot when put into context with its current competition. Without a doubt, “Enigma” would have been at the bottom of the pile during the action-clogged summer months, and a December release would have subjugated it to a forgettable matinee slot. But still. You can leave this flick without feeling as if your brains were blown into a mess on the theater wall, and that, for better or worse, is saying something.

Directed by Michael Apted (the uneven hand behind the 007 clunker “The World Is Not Enough”) and with a script by Tom Stoppard, “Enigma” weaves through a nice little espionage story that would be far more interesting if it weren’t for a few far-superior subplots. Dougray Scott (“Mission Impossible 2”) plays Tom Jericho, a gifted English cryptographer who broke through a major Nazi code before having a mental breakdown and being sent away to recover. This is interesting. Almost as interesting as the apparent source of his mental descent, a swaggering blonde named Claire who mysteriously left him right when he was ready to forsake all others. Unfortunately, we get just enough of these stories to understand the larger picture.

And the larger picture involves German U-boats on the high seas.

It’s a forgivable crime here.

After all, the Germans are back with a tougher code and an all-out ambush on the Atlantic, and England needs Jericho back, crazy or not. But as he sits down to break this “Shark,” other complications arise as the clock continues to tick down. Claire, who worked as a code translator, turns up missing, and she obviously has more of an involvement than anyone had suspected. The “Shark” proves itself to be thick and multi-layered, changing its matrix every day so that no letter translates itself the same way twice. And Jericho is forced to get help from Claire’s old roommate, Hester (Kate Winslet), who also works as a translator.

The end result is interesting if somewhat short of thrilling. Scott makes a good leading-man turn as a genius on the brink of self-destruction, and Apted’s direction is smooth, despite being a little heavy-handed at times. And what can you really say about Kate Winslet? She’s Kate Winslet. Decent looking, decent attention to craft, but a little annoying around the edges.

But in a season filled with flat-lining features and overloaded guns, an empty barrel never looked quite so good.

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