2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

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Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

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Miranda Richardson, Spider

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Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Monday, June 24, 2002
Enigma: C- another film that came out late where I live...here ya go:

Cryptology is a fascinating topic for a History Channel documentary, and maybe even a fictional book (which Enigma is based on), but it in no way infuses a film with dramatic action. There is no doubt about the draw of cryptology, especially when it reached its peak of strategic importance in World War II, the breaking of codes (always seemingly done under great stress and time pressure) to access enemy intelligence (such as the movement of a Japanese fleet towards Midway or the plans of Atlantic u-boats to sink convoys) has always been acknowledged as one of the more underrated but essential elements of war history. This is probably due to its lack of infusion in modern media, especially film, how many famous war movies are based on solving mathematical problems instead of winning decisive battles?

The issue of making code breaking dramatically interesting fails most obviously in Michael Apted’s new film Enigma where the plot seems to function mainly to explain how code breaking actually works. Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), England’s top cryptologist, returns to Bletchley Park, the world’s most famous concentration of code breakers, after a mental breakdown over a girl he met earlier at Bletchley. He finds that the Germans have changed their enigma code significantly, the code he originally broke, and he and his Bletchley colleagues have to crack it ASAP or else convoys in the Atlantic will be lost. Meanwhile Jericho tries to track down his ex-girlfriend Claire through her roommate Hester (Kate Winslet) and they discover that not only is she missing but she might be a spy as well. Simultaneously a spy hunter (Jeremy Northam) creeps along after Jericho, suspecting him of being the leak in Bletchley.

Jericho, looking appropriately haggard for the hollow, broken down math whiz he is, patiently explains how the enigma-encoding device works to the British and American admirals. Once he and Hester team up to find Claire he explains it in more depth to her, under the guise they are trying to figure out what her roommate what up to. Having given the audience a firm grasp on the basics of the device Hester and Jericho now take what essentially amounts to a tour of Bletchley Park to “track down” what Claire was doing.

The only plot here that is not a built up layman’s explanation of British code breaking is when Jeremy Northam comes sniffing around Dougray Scott’s deathly ill looking Jericho. Subjectively selected flashbacks eventually explain the detective-like quest Northam is on, Jericho often dreams of his past with Claire and what looks like odd moments to remember turn out to be “important” clues to what will later be thoroughly explained out loud by the main characters. In other words a suspenseless who-dun-it is tacked onto a glorified explanation of code breaking.

It would be hard to object to a nice homage to the underappreciated code-breakers of WWII by making a moody detective tale/romance that takes place in the overcast country side of Bletchley Park (and that is probably how the film was pitched to its producers), but director Apted tries very little to stylize or romanticize any element of the film, from the code breaking to the possibility of romance between Scott and Winslet to the spy subplot. All could have been moodily shot, pseudo-noir lighting could be used, dialogue filled with spicy 40’s lingo, this film could have used any trick to make it clear it was not simply a cursory educational film disguised by superficial spy and romance filler.

Enigma is not unwatchable of course; both Northam and Winslet acquit themselves nicely. Ms. Winslet, cleverly hiding her real life pregnancy, carries herself with a husky resolve and a buried sexuality that her glasses do little to hide and it’s hard to see why Mr. Scott’s heart torn Jericho does not jump on her at the first chance he gets. Unfortunately Scott gives Jericho the necessary physical appearance, but if he opens his mouth and he isn’t speaking code breaking mumbo jumbo everything comes out like he wants to physically beat the person he is talking to. Even in the pre-breakdown flashbacks where Jericho is suppose to be tender and caring the man is still creepy, just creepy in a nicer suit and combed hair.

Jeremy Northam looks like he is in the spy movie that Mr. Apted should have turned Enigma into. He looks so good in his period spy gear and he works the game so smoothly that he tantalizes the audience with the idea of what a fun movie this could have been. He tips his hat and has the verbal patter down like he is in some noir throwback, but without proper support his character is simply out of place among the simple plot points that serve as cryptology explanations. It really is a shame, a moody code breaking spy flick really could have given those poor cryptologists the romanticism their profession needs.