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It would be all too easy to dismiss Enemy At The Gates as being an attempt
to cash in on Saving Private Ryan's success, but in my opinion, it is a very
worthy competitor. In fact, it is a better film. I say that primarily
because I am sick to death of Americans using World War II as a basis for
films that generally amount to little more than propaganda. Of course, Enemy
At The Gates comes off as being somewhat fantastic due to its attempt to
balance entertainment with historical fact, and it came as a surprise to me
to learn that Sergeant Vassili Zaitsev was a real person (whose sniper rifle
is still an exhibit in a Russian museum), but this makes it all the more
entertaining to watch.
A lot of historians have it that the battle of Stalingrad was the most unpleasant one fought during the second World War, and this film's set design and cinematography capture that impeccably. When the Russians are battling the Nazis, you get the idea that if the Nazis didn't kill them, malnutrition, tetanus, scurvy, bubonic plague, or a million other things would. Jude Law and Joseph Fiennes lend authenticity to their roles that makes it even easier to follow them on their personal journey through hell, and Ed Harris is scarily convincing as a high-ranking Nazi. The real surprise here, however, is Rachel Weisz as Sergeant Tania Chernova, and the very heart and soul of the film. When she describes the reasons why she decided to take up a gun and battle the Germans, it all makes so much sense that you just want to buy the poor girl a beer and give her a good warm embrace. Not that such things would erase the scars that her character bears, but one would feel obligated to try.
Writer/Director Jean-Jacques Annaud, writer Alain Goddard, and cinematographer Robert Fraisse treat the subject matter with great care towards authenticity and entertainment value. It's very tricky to get these two things in proper sync, but they more than manage here. They also don't rely on any hokey photographic effects to tell the story, simply letting you see everything as clearly as possible, letting your imagination do the rest. Anyone who's read anything credible about the inhuman suffering the Russian soldiers endured during this battle will have no trouble filling in the gaps that the narrative leaves about their living conditions. The blood and gore shown during the battles is also very conducive to the atmosphere. Rather than just expecting you to believe that a solider gets his stomach spread all over half a kilometer of pavement by enemy bullets, they show you so you can get a feel for how bloodthirsty both sides in the confrontation were. Even the sex scene doesn't look out of place here.
To make a long story short, this is the first film I've seen in a long, long time that I haven't been able to come up with a list of criticisms for. It is simply excellent, and the 7.1 rating it is currently stuck with does not do it justice. It is easily superior to the likes of Platoon, the equal of more esoteric war films such as Three Kings, and it is miles above the likes of Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbour. Vassili Zaitsev would be very happy that his struggle has inspired such a commendable piece of art - it is exactly the sort of thing he and millions of others like him (on both sides of the planet) were fighting for.
Bursting into my Top Five war movies of all time is this film. A gritty and
realistic portrayal of one of the worst battles in the history of war - the
1942-43 armwrestle for the city of Stalingrad.
Much has been made of the actors speaking in their native accents, but this seems a trivial complaint - the film is in English after all! More important is the masterful manner of speech of the actors - Bob Hoskins' gutteral exultations as Ukrainian potato farmer Nikita Krushchev; Joseph Fiennes' pompous and proud intonations as the political officer; Jude Law's common man for the peasant turned soldier; Ed Harris with the clipped and crisp tones of a German officer.
This is my pick for the best film of the year so far (August). It is truly a cinematic masterpiece, with horrific scenes of the violence of war, brilliant dialog and heart-wrenching tragedy. Expect to be moved.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Enemy at the Gates" by William Craig was a great history of the Battle of
Stalingrad as retold by living participants. "War of the Rats" was a
powerful, moving dramatization of Zaitsev and the Soviet snipers who fought
at Stalingrad, as well as the Germans who opposed them. I thought that the
movie would be based on at least the novel. I was disgusted to find out
the producer/director/writers chose to throw both of these memorable books
out the window and instead manufacture their own vision of the battle that
provided absolutely no historical insight, replacing the great stories of
the two books with warmed over putrid anti-communism.
The movie goer gets no insight into the complexities of why Soviet soldiers fought and defeated the Germans at Stalingrad. Instead we are given the impression that the only reason any Soviet soldiers fought there was due to the threat of being machine gunned by the Stalinist "blocking units". Then suddenly, one commissar has a brilliant idea to "create a hero who will be an example" and the whole battle turns on Vasily Zaitsev. None of the other real acts of heroism at Stalingrad are shown, such as the soldiers who held out for 53 days in "Pavlov's house".
Further, the main function of Zaitsev's publicity in the Red Army newspaper was to popularize sniper techniques. This was not shown. Nor the sniper school set up where snipers were "mass produced" to harrass the Germans. The heroic deeds and harrowing adventures of the real Tania Chernov are never mentioned. Her being blown out of the boat on the Volga, surviving the journey through the sewers, behind German lines, her responsibility for the loss of several fellow snipers and Zaitsev's anger with her for that, all would have made great scenes.
The tension and suspense of snipers hunting each other for days was completely missing as well as the long range aspect of these duels. The ludicrous scene at the end where Konig and Zaitsev confront each other "High Noon" style was absurd. No sniper would expose himself like that, let alone battle hardened troops by that point in the battle, even Germans.
The insipid speech by Commissar Danilov at the end about "there will always be rich and poor" was apparently thrown in to reassure the viewers that the director and producer do not sympathize with "Communism".
All in all, this movie was a travesty both as art and as history. It did a severe disservice to both. Soviet soldiers who fought and died at Stalingrad did not only do so out of fear of NKVD retaliation. Patriotism against a genocidal invader was a real part of it. And yes, many actually believed that they were fighting for a better future, that they were saving socialism. Why is it that Craig's book and Robbins novel can convey these complexities of the battle of Stalingrad while all we get from the movie is an insipid love triangle, rediculous "sniper tactics" and lots of good old fashioned anti-communism. You don't have to cover up the truth about the crimes of Stalinism to make an accurate portrayal of Russians in the battle of Stalingrad. But you don't have to churn out an anti-communist diatribe either. The truth will not be found in either. Certainly not in the sorry cinematic adaptation of "Enemy at the Gates". The only thing it has in common with the history is the title.
A gut-wrenching and impressive hide-and-seek thriller that uses the bloody
battle of Stalingrad (during the second World War) as the clever disguise
here for a real battle of courage and determination. The film follows a
young and highly talented Russian sniper from the Urals, Vassili Zaitsev
(Jude Law - "eXistenZ", "The Talented Mr. Ripley"), who gains national fame
from the help of Danilov (Joesph Fiennes - "Shakespeare in Love"), a
propoganda officer and his true love and fellow sniper, Tania (Rachael
Weisz), who is also flirting with Danilov.
However, the Germans have an ace sniper of their own in Erwin Koning (Ed Harris - "Pollock"), a seasoned and out-spoken Major who comes to Stalingrad only to pick off Vassili. And before Koning leaves, his superior officer asks how he'll find Vassili. Koning says, " I'll fix it so he finds me."
The love triangle that director Jean-Jacques Annaud and co-writer Alain Godard put in the story shows that the pair took a chance and I'll give them credit for doing it. Plus, the love scene that Law and Weisz have is one of the strangest (no offense to either one) that I've seen.
The film's best moments come when Vassili tries to catch Koning off guard, but the problem is Koning is aware of what Vassili is capable of. I won't say how it's done, but the final confrontation is a genuine nail-bitter.
All of the performances here are powerhouse and that includes Bob Hoskins as Nikita Kruschev, a snarling and impatient man and Ron Perlman, who portrays Koulikov, a lieutenant whose teeth are all metal and serves as a guide for Vassili.
Robert Frassie ("Ronin") handles the movie's photography with care and the appearrence of Stalingrad itself reminded me heavily of the war-torn cities shown in Spielsburg's "Saving Private Ryan" and Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket". Also, James Horner conducts a tender and extremely mournful score that leaves a quiet yet important reminder of how awful war is.
"ENEMY AT THE GATES" is an extrodinary work of raw skill and imagination.
At first glance I must admit I thought "Oh no!" not another war movie trying
to cash in on the success that Saving Private Ryan had. However when I
viewed this film it turned out to be a great surprise in my mind. Its the
story of a man brought to fame in a form of propaganda to help the
disintegrating Russian forces keep faith. The boy (Law) was obviously
talented however nearly lost his own faith when poised against his greatest
challenge, the prized German sniper. The story line throughout kept me glued
to the screen leading up to a wonderful climax.
The wonder of friendship and love also have a great deal in the plot and realistically portrays both in those times of chaos and death. I urge any reader who is doubting this films credentials to swallow their pride and sit down to watch this film. You will not be disapointed in the least.
In saying this I would like to just add that I feel there could have been improvement in the accents as sometimes I was finding it hard to grasp that the Germans were fighting the Russians and not the English, but otherwise 10 out of 10.
In "Enemy at the Gates," the future of the greatest battle of World War
II, would be decided between a young Russian sniper and an aristocratic
sharpshooter from Germany sent to kill him
Jude Law and Ed Harris sit
for hours waiting for the right moment
It was a duel set in the siege
Stalingrad was one of the biggest and bloodiest battles
of World War II, and in the midst of this huge battle, these two
soldiers were hunting each other down
The film opens with the harrowing transport of thousand of Russian soldiers across the Volga River to Stalingrad The recruits were packed onto steamers, barges, whatever they could find to ferry them across the river All that under a deluge of shells, bombs and explosions
By the time Vassili arrives to Stalingrad, the Nazis have a distinct edge, and Soviet morale is at an all-time low
Leading the Russians in their seemingly futile defense is Nikita Kruschev, played by Bob Hoskins The Germans, at that time, were overrunning the place and the Russians were in an appalling state It was the most awful battle of the war
Joseph Fiennes plays Danilov, an idealistic Russian officer who passionately speaks about his belief in getting the troops to turn the grave situation in Stalingrad around He finds the perfect inspiration in Vassili
Rachel Weisz plays a young woman who volunteers to help in the war effort She's literally protecting the people she grew up with When she meets Vassili, he just has a natural intelligence, a natural instinct
Jude Law is remarkable as the young sharpshooter Vassili Zaitsev who conveyed both humanity and intensity There's such a fierce intelligence and liveliness in his eyes He can also be very quiet and internal Vassili found the complexity within the silence and stillness In fact to be a sniper is very much about a man of action through stillness Vassili represented the ultimate hero, the symbol of someone who could instill hope and belief in victory amongst the troops, because his skills as a sniper were unparalleled
Ed Harris played Major Konig, the German sharpshooter sent to hunt down Vassili He knows that Vassili was picking off German officers with some regularity, and was becoming a folk hero for the Russian soldiers as well as the Russian populace... He decided to eliminate him
The casting of Ed Harris opposite Jude Law resulted in a striking visual link between their characters They both have these unbelievably penetrating blue eyes And director Jean-Jacques Annaud began to see the duel through their eyes And one of the first shots of Ed Harris was a close-up of his blue eyes
Annaud painted the tensions very clearly and concentrated purely on the eyes of the Jude Law and Harris and, of course, on their rifles and how they were hidden and what they were doing Basically, the core of his camera is the duel of their eyes, duel of men, duel of snipers, therefore a confrontation of people that scan the surrounding buildings, and try to decipher what they see
I simply want to weigh in with a very positive response to Enemy at the Gates. Taken as a historical drama rather than an attempt to flawlessly depict an historical incident, this is topnotch entertainment. "Enemy" portrays the conflict between a young Russian sniper played by Law and the German sniper (Harris) who is sent to kill him during the German attack on Stalingrad during WWII. Apart from a scene which awkwardly caricatures the Russian field commanders and the occasionally distracting accents, the film successfully immerses the viewer in this tense war drama. Appreciate it it for its tight focus, uncompromising realism, and fine characterizations by the main actors. Research the historical accuracy later, if you must, but don't let it spoil the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's the Battle of Stalingrad. Things are not going well for the Red
Army. The film suggests that should they loose this battle they will
also loose the war. But the soldiers and the officers only know defeat,
they have no hope of victory.
Enter a political commas (Fiennes) who has witnessed superb shooting by the soldier Zaitsev (Law) - killing a bunch of German officers taking a shower very near the front line (sic!). Zaitsev is turned into a sniper and his exploits are front page news all over the Soviet Union. He and his comrades are so successful that the German army ceases to function properly, only a few hundred meters away from the river Volga and Victory.
This is the setting for this movie, and the sniper duel that follows between Zaitsev and his German counterpart Konig (Ed Harris) is good entertainment. The love affair between Zaitsev and the female soldier Tania (Weisz) does not add to the suspense, but is forgivable. Some people like romance in movies, and why not? It does not make the story any better though.
Some people seem to believe that this movie is historically mostly accurate. That is not correct. There was a battle in Stalingrad. It was a bloody mess. Zaitsev was a good sniper and he killed a lot of Germans. Almost everything else in this movie is fiction and/or unrealistic. It is impossible to get every detail right, but in this movie the main plot - the duel between Zaitsev and Konig - is pure fiction and Soviet propaganda. And the idea that Zaitsev sort of "won the battle" is also absurd. He was part of their delaying forces in the city. Operation Uranus - a pincer move with tanks - was what really won the battle.
Enjoy the movie if you like. The acting is good, the scenery and costumes are OK, visual effects mostly OK. Just do not think you are learning history or are seeing realistic military tactics.
Being a russian I want to say that many russians are offended by this
Though it has some real stuff in it, many things are stupid and even
abusive. Like russian soldiers being brought to the front line in the
cars with barred windows like criminals or some sort of cattle. Or soviet
officers only drinking vodka and shouting around. How did they win the war
only doing that?
A Hollywood director sitting in his cozy chair can't even imagine what was that war like. And I think he doesn't want to. In Russia, we've been taught a little about the war. Stalingrad had a long battle in the middle of a coldest winter of the century. People were starving and freezing to death. And a red-cheeked boy walking around in shorts (at -40!!!) looks like a stupid joke. So does a soldier woman with long painted nails putting on her make-up before the attack. So does the slogan in Russian on the wall "Long live the socialism". Does the director really think the Russians were such maniacs to write on the walls how they loved the socialism? "We will win!" That's a real slogan from that time.
This movie has a lot more inaccuracies but I can't and don't want to enumerate them all. Just... the director should be embarrassed of his work.
I really loved this film. It is one of the best movies about war - what it
is like, and what causes it. I know some people find the love story hard to
take, but it is there to illustrate how jealousy and envy can lead to
irrational acts, hate, and even war.
At a time when the world is racing toward armed conflict yet again, this film is a timely reminder of the ultimate futility of war. The opening sequence is one of the most horrific I have ever seen - comparable to that incredible opening scene in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. But unlike "Ryan", this film does not become a flag-waving one-sided analysis of war. Instead we get an in depth, and very moving, look at the reality of being human in a war situation - whether male or female, German or Russian. And Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz and Ed Harris all give superb performances. I was a bit hard-pressed, though, to believe Bob Hoskins as Krushchev.
Jean-Jacques Annaud is a remarkable director, with a strong visual style, and deserves to be recognised as one of the contemporary masters of cinema. Ten out of Ten.
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