Note to aspiring film producer Mick Jagger: don't give up that day job just yet. Jagger makes his debut as a film producer with Enigma, a convoluted second world war spy drama based on the best-seller by Robert Harris.
Directed by Michael Apted, Enigma is set in Station X, Bletchley Park, the headquarters of England's team of code breakers and code interceptors.
It's March 1943, and the Germans have unexpectedly changed their code, which the Brits have been deciphering with a stolen Enigma machine. The old code was broken by Cambridge mathematician Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), who's been on leave after suffering a nervous breakdown when his lover Claire (Saffron Burrows) rejected him.
Now England needs Jericho back, to decipher the seemingly unbreakable code and search for Claire, who's suddenly gone missing and is suspected of being a spy.
The story of the English code breakers and the work they did at Bletchley Park was declassified by the Official Secrets Act in the early 70s, thereby unleashing a huge amount of interest in these once top-secret endeavours. It's wonderful fodder for a film -- eccentric, brilliant Brits living together in close quarters struggling to crack a code and even building the first computer, or "thinking machine" as it was called, at Bletchley.
So why ruin it with a silly mystery plot that asks a dishevelled and unlikely genius to play hero? The answer is simply that novelist Harris doesn't trust his readers to find glamour and intrigue in reality, a mistake that director Apted perpetuates and screenwriter Tom Stoppard accentuates.
Stoppard is one of the world's premier playwrights, known for his idiosyncratic and clever wordplay. Stage hits like Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, The Real Thing and Arcadia weave subtle verbal webs, and he usually brings this quality to his screenwriting. (His script for Shakespeare In Love earned him an Oscar.)
Yet Engima has none of that magic. The script is amazingly wooden when you consider Stoppard's love of distilling complex ideas into simple yet poetic prose, and the intelligent source material he was drawing from.
And the script isn't the only wooden element. Dougray Scott, best known as the bad guy in Mission: Impossible 2, takes his role very seriously (he lost weight for the part and learned to work a real Enigma machine) but conveys no sense of who the geeky Tom Jericho is. His subdued performance comes to life slightly when he starts to play a pale James Bond, leading government officials on a car chase and punching out spies, but even then he's more petulant than heroic.
Scott's anemic energy is transferred to his romance with the supposed-to-be-frumpy Hester (played by the beautiful Kate Winslet, who's been cast as the plain, intellectual gal with glasses way too often lately). Hester helps Jericho decipher important messages, and their blossoming attraction is completely underplayed. There are some jerky cuts that make me suspect that the heart of this onscreen romance was cut out of the movie.
Enigma is greedy; it wants to be a romantic thriller, historical document and spy drama. That kind of big ambition usually leads to small rewards. email@example.com
Enigma directed by Michael Apted, written by Tom Stoppard, based on the novel by Robert Harris, produced by Mick Jagger and Lorne Michaels, with Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam and Saffron Burrows. 117 minutes. An Equinox Entertainment release. Opens Friday (May 31). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 171. Rating: NN