Enemy At The Gates

"OK"

Enemy At The Gates Review


The first half-hour of "Enemy at the Gates" is a cinematically stunning, hyper-realistic battlefield nightmare that transports the viewer right into the heart of the Nazis' yearlong siege of Stalingrad during World War II.

"Autumn, 1942," deplores the period-style voiceover as a shadow creeps across an illustrative map in an updated homage to old-timey war pictures. "Europe lies crushed under the Nazi jackboot..."

German planes dive-bomb troop transports in an incredible attack sequence. Sweeping shots the color of mud and blood take in the scale of the besieged city's cold, yet smoldering ruins while Red Army officers recite threatening propaganda to masses of soldiers who would rather flee.

And then director (and co-writer) Jean-Jacques Annaud ("Seven Years in Tibet") zeros in on two Russian soldiers. One is a born sharpshooter, about to become a decorated sniper. The other is a propaganda officer who will hyperbolize the rifleman into a national hero by chronicling his kills during this historic battle that helped turn the tide of the war.

But as these two men are brought into sharp focus, Annaud seems to get impatient. Using little more than a montage sequence, he barnstorms through establishing the prowess and growing legend of marksman Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law). With only a few broad smiles and hurried, back-slapping hugs, he expects the audience to understand that a brotherly bond has formed between Vassili and Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), the propaganda man who answers directly to a bellicose general named Nikita Khrushchev (played with ferocious aplomb by Bob Hoskins).

"Enemy at the Gates" loses most of its emotional hook by rushing through these scenes. The audience fails to connect with the characters and it takes another couple reels before we feel invested in them again.

In the mean time, the story turns immoderately melodramatic with the introduction of a beautiful militia soldier (Rachel Weisz) who falls in love with Vassili, making Danilov jealous.

In a strong performance, Law gives Vassili soft-spoken complexity and a sincere modesty that make him a very likable unlikely hero. Fiennes provides the film with admirable nationalistic pride, allegiance and emotional gravity. Weisz is both moving and convincing as a beautiful intellectual who chooses to pick up a rifle and defend her city and her people. But the love triangle feels disingenuous -- like an overt attempt to wedge Chekovian tear-jerking into the picture.

"Enemy" is put back on track by the arrival of Ed Harris, playing an exalted German major named Konig who is pulled away from his stewardship of a Nazi sniper school to travel to Stalingrad and personally assassinate Vassili. The months-long duel that follows between these steathly one-bullet combatants is rife with drawn-out tension built on patience, strategy, espionage and meticulous precision -- all played out in a dangerous no-man's land of city rubble.

As Konig and Vassili lie in wait for each other and match wits through magnifying gun sites, this showdown of mano-a-mano military perseverance inspires gripping cinematic moments strong enough to carry the picture through several reels of what is obviously wholesale dramatic license. (Vassili was a real Soviet war hero. The rest of the characters are largely fictional.)

But Annaud's impulse to romanticize every element of the story (as he did with "Seven Years in Tibet") gets the better of him and of the movie. The mutual reconnaissance between these stealthy warriors -- facilitated by a young shoeshine boy who worships Vassili and services Konig -- becomes superfluously convoluted. As they try and fail to take each other out, the showdowns become a touch too dependent on chance and coincidence.

The climax of the love story actually got an unintended laugh at the screening I attended, when Weisz and Law make passionate love amongst sleeping soldiers in a bunker. And as the movie wears on, it becomes terribly grandiose with operatic moments of self-sacrifice, an intrusive score (by "Titanic's" James Horner) and characters spouting dime novel profundity. (Not to mention an ending that smells of a test audience-inspired reshoot.)

"Enemy at the Gates" is spectacularly atmospheric. It feels like war, especially during the frighteningly realistic bombing raid scenes, which are at the same time strangely beautiful. And Annaud makes the viewer feel like a Stalingrad civilian, not like one of the soldiers, which heightens the film's intensity. He also endows several battle scenes with powerful, but mostly subtle, symbolism -- like when the camera pans past a statue of children at play that has soldiers' bodies piled at its feet.

But while the ambience is enveloping, the all-too-apparent contrivances keep undermining this outwardly strong war picture until its impact is watered down to the level of lukewarm disappointment.



Enemy At The Gates

Facts and Figures

Run time: 131 mins

In Theaters: Friday 16th March 2001

Box Office USA: $50.5M

Box Office Worldwide: $97M

Budget: $70M

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Production compaines: Swanford Films, Paramount Pictures, Mandalay Pictures, KC Medien, Reperage, DOS, Little Bird, MP Film Management

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Fresh: 74 Rotten: 63

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Vassili Zaitsev, as Tania Chernova, as Major König, as Commisar Danilov, as Nikita Khrushchev, as Koulikov, as Mother Filipov, as Sacha Filipov, as General Paulus, Alexander Schwan as Young Vassili Zaitsev, as Comrade in Train, Gennadi Vengerov as Russian NCO, Dan van Husen as Political Officer

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

War Dogs Movie Review

War Dogs Movie Review

Based on a rather astounding true story, this comedy-drama centres on two stoners who landed...

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

Advertisement
The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.