Release Date(s)1982 (April 9, 2019)
Studio(s)Embassy Pictures (S'More Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
Enigma, a 1982 Cold War thriller based on the novel Enigma Sacrifice by Michael Barak, stars Martin Sheen (TV’s The West Wing) as Alex Holbeck, an iron curtain defector who returns to East Germany when summoned by the CIA. His mission is to steal a vital code-scrambling device from the communists. The CIA has information that the KGB wants to assassinate five Russian spies who defected to the West and are providing valuable intelligence. The CIA needs this device, called Enigma, to identify the targeted defectors and save them.
In East Germany, a cat-and-mouse game begins between Holbeck and KGB agent Dimitri Vasilkov (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park), who was sent to East Berlin to foil Holbeck’s plot. Holbeck must also deal with threats from a series of highly trained, ruthless, Soviet assassins. Karen Reinhardt (Brigitte Fossey), Holbeck’s former lover, becomes involved in the intrigue when he asks her to romance Vasilkov as part of his escape plan. These machinations must move forward without upsetting the uneasy balance between East and West powers.
Enigma is a typical Cold War thriller that moves along at a brisk pace. Unlike the James Bond films, Enigma is grounded in the nitty gritty of spymanship – no special gadgets, fancy martinis, or bevy of voluptuous women. Director Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2) provides several action moments but is especially good at creating suspense by showing how hot Vasilkov is on Holbeck’s trail. There are some nice twists along the way that keep the movie from being predictable.
Sheen convinces us that Holbeck has the ability to hide behind disguises and outmaneuver his adversary, the reluctant willingness to subordinate his affections to his mission, and the confidence to frequently put his life on the line. Neill, however, is nearly emotionless as Vasilkov and doesn’t convey the appropriate villainous aura. As he gives orders and attempts to capture Holbeck, his stone face fails to convey the gravity of his mission and the consequences to his future should he fail. Ms. Fossey, the compulsory romantic interest, is used here for more than just window dressing. Her Karen becomes enveloped in the mission, alternately an asset and an encumbrance.
The Cold War thriller has a kind of nostalgic vibe these days, and Enigma is representative of the genre, lying somewhere between the very best and the least successful. Despite Szwarc’s TV background, he achieves some impressive action sequences and keeps the plot moving briskly, giving the film the look of a big-budget movie.
The Region A Blu-ray release features a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.77:1. Jean-Louis Picavet’s cinematography features bluish outdoor scenes to emphasize the cold winter setting. Actors wear heavy overcoats and snow covers the ground, but no visible vapor comes from the actors’ mouths. A gripping scene involving Karen in a cell shows her stripped naked and huddling in a dark corner. Bright overhead lights illuminate part of the cell and she moves out of their glare only to have another set of lights brutally shine down on her, making her completely vulnerable and defenseless against her captors. A fire sequence dramatically “pops” against dull grey office corridors. The color palette in general is muted, with few bold colors.
Audio is English Dolby mono. Sounds of rioting students are dramatic, though a stereo soundtrack would better separate background sounds from dialogue. Most actors speak with either an American accent or British accents standing in for Russian – hardly realistic but a convention moviegoers have come to accept in order to avoid reading subtitles. All dialogue is easy to understand, though director Szwarc prefers to tell his story through visuals whenever possible.
Bonus materials on the PG-rated Blu-ray include a photo gallery, cast biographies, and the original theatrical trailer.
Photo Gallery – Color stills from the movie and a reproduction of the film’s original poster are shown in slideshow format, accompanied by the film's Douglas Gamley/Marc Wilkinson score.
Cast Biographies – Brief overviews of the careers of Martin Sheen and Sam Neill are shown.
Theatrical Trailer – The quality of the trailer is far inferior to that of the film itself, likely due to repeated copying.
– Dennis Seuling