"ENEMY AT THE GATES"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
BLURAY EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Jude Law as VASSILI ZAITSEV
Ed Harris as MAJOR KÖNIG
Rachel Weisz as TANIA CHERNOVA
Joseph Fiennes as COMMISAR DANILOV
Bob Hoskins as NIKITA KHRUSHCHEV
Ron Perlman as KOULIKOV
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Jean-Jacques Annaud
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At the height of World War II, Russian draftee Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) is thrust into the bloody Battle of Stalingrad. As his comrades are cut down around him by the advancing Nazi army, Zaitsev uses his skills as a hunter to pick off the enemies. A Russian journalist named Commisar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) discovers Zaitsev’s story, and with the help of Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins), publicizes him as a war hero.
This motivates the Russian people to learn the trade of sharp shooting, driving a crushing blow into the Nazi’s advance. Soon, the Nazis call in their own sniper, Major König (Ed Harris), who relentlessly hunts Zaitsev and his friends on the ruined streets of Stalingrad.
WHAT I LIKED
I love a good World War II flick, and there are some decent things about “Enemy at the Gates.” First, the production design was fantastic, giving a very realistic and claustrophobic feel of a war-torn city. Not knowing much about the Battle of Stalingrad, this movie opened my eyes to the brutality of the war in Russia and its impact on the civilians as well as the sometimes reluctant military men.
Also, I found this to be a very brave film, coming from the perspective of a kid who grew up in the 80s during the Cold War. It was interesting to see the Russians portrayed in a positive wartime light. But the movie also didn’t pull any punches about how the Russians motivated their own people.
Additionally, “Enemy at the Gates” managed to capture the feel of being a sniper, at least what I imagine it would be like. There’s a lot of suspense mixed with a fair amount of banality as the snipers wait for their targets. It’s not a fast action movie, but rather a slow build.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Only a few months ago, I criticized another World War II film for losing a certain degree of authenticity. Bryan Singer’s “Valkyrie” was a pretty exciting movie, but the lack of any semblance of German accents in the actors really took me out of the moment. It was hard to believe in Tom Cruise as a Nazi when he sounded exactly like he did in “Top Gun.”
Similarly, “Enemy at the Gates” suffered from it’s own laziness in accents. This is not an uncommon thing for a British production (or an American production, for that matter). The BBC constantly has all of their characters speak with a British accent, whether they’re the Prince of Denmark or a Roman Emperor. I know that an accent does not a language make, but it was hard to believe in the actors in “Enemy at the Gates” when they spoke like they walked off the streets of London.
This wouldn’t be bad if I didn’t have to keep reminding myself that the Allied soldiers in the film were actually Russian and not a slew of Brits. Moreover, the actors (who are actually quite good in the film) are capable of doing Russian accents. I have total faith in Joseph Fiennes, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz. Too bad no one else did.
But with all the accents aside, the biggest sin in “Enemy at the Gates” is not moving the story along fast enough. Remember how I said the film gave a taste of what it might be like to be a sniper? Well, it could have held back on the parts featuring boredom because they did tend to drag the suspense down a bit.
Also, the failed attempt at the love triangle between Zaitsev, Danilov and Tania (Weisz) never quite clicks and comes off as creepy rather than sweet. Sadly, I expected more from director Jean-Jacques Annaud, who has given us some fantastic films (e.g., “The Name of the Rose”) in the past.
The new Blu-ray release pulls its special features from the DVD release, including ten minutes of deleted scenes and the original theatrical trailer, with the latter presented in high definition.
There’s two featurettes in the mix: “Through the Crosshairs,” which gives the history of the film and the story behind it, and “Inside Enemy at the Gates,” which serves as a behind-the-scenes featurette.
Fans of the film might want to consider picking this up on Blu-ray for the high-definition aspects of both the picture and the sound. The war-torn shots of Stalingrad in ruins look brilliant on the screen and are worth checking out in a slicker format on a large screen television.
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
BBC war movie buffs.