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UK/USA/Germany 2001
Directed by
Jean-Jacques Annaud
171 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars

Enemy At The Gates

Enemy at the Gates is one of those films that make you wonder how so much money and talent could be involved and yet still result in an awful film.

“Inspired by” real events it tells the story of the battle for Stalingrad that occurred in the winter of 1942-43 as Hitler tried to crush the spirit of the Russians. It is infamous as the bloodiest single battle in military history (Napoleon, had had similar results a century earlier) with more than a million deaths and initiating the turning of World War II in favour of the allies.

The film commences in September 1942 with the Germans in attack.  It is vital to the Russians that the Germans don’t capture the city and future Soviet premier Krushchev (Bob Hoskins) arrives to take control of its defense. A local journalist, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), suggests that what the troops and the Russians need is a hero to motivate them. He has just the man in the form of Vassily Zaitsev (Jude Law), a farm worker who is also a crack sharpshooter. Krushchev jumps at the idea and Zaitsev and Danilov sets about popping off high-ranking Germans and turning the farm boy into an inspirational figure. The Germans send in their ace sniper, Major Koenig (Ed Harris), to bring Zaitsev down. Meanwhile, Zaitsev and Danilov have both fallen in love with Tania (Rachel Weisz) and their friendship turns into rivalry.

If you didn’t know better you’d be forgiven for thinking that Enemy at the Gates was directed by Steven Spielberg with his eyes closed. It opens, Saving Private Ryan-style amidst an intense smoke-shrouded large scale battle and stays with a blue-grey to dun pallete as it charts Koenig’s and Zaitsev’s deadly hunter-and-hunted game. This aspect of the film is handled in workmanly fashion, but the grafted romantic sub-plot? Oh dear!

Co-written and co-produced by Annaud the script is a concatenation of clichés with the handling of the three-way romance bordering on the jaw-droppingly ham-fisted and once again, a là Spielberg, a cute young boy playing a central role. Whilst the routine script is not necessarily catastrophic the casting is woefully Ill-judged. None attempts to modify their accent bar Hoskins which is ironic as he has the strongest accent of all. Surely if your only stipulations are fat and bald there were better choices. Suffice it to say metro-sexual types such as Fiennes and Law are similarly unsuited.

Weisz can usually be relied upon but at this early stage of her career she seems completely out of her depth. The camera, lighting and make-up are so inconsistent that at times I wondered, if another actor somewhat chubbier was playing her part. Indeed none of the cast convince. Harris’s ruthless sniper is the only character with any presence, even or, given the pervading banality, because he gets to play a villain. As for the film’s hackneyed epilogue, surely this was forced on Annaud? And James Horner’s music?  To say that it resonates with the film is no compliment.

Apparently Enemy at the Gates was the most expensive European made to that date. War film freaks will get their money’s worth but everyone else can avoid it.




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