It is the Autumn of 1942. The Third Reich has set its sights on the city of Stalingrad. Soviet troops must fight and struggle for Mother Russia to keep German forces from taking the city. Those who do not fight shall die. Within this dramatic setting, a more personal story is about to unfold. One man has shown himself to be a hero of strength, bravery, and the Communist way. This is the true story of that man, Vassily Zaitsev, played by Jude Law. Vassily is an expert Soviet sniper and inspiration to all who would battle against the Nazi war machine. It is also the story of Major Koenig, played by Ed Harris, the German sharp-shooter sent to assassinate Vassily and aid Hitler's minions in their bloody seige of Stalingrad. Events soon work their way toward the inevitable confrontation between these two men of combat.
Sounds like a great war movie, doesn't it? Unfortunately, while Enemy at the Gates does distill down to the above true-life account, the story is nearly overpowered by its own dramatic embellishments.
The first and biggest problem is a very uneven script. There are also some weirdly light comic moments stuck in between the horrors of battle, which have no bearing on the plot, and the filmmakers have made the very odd decision to include a silly love triangle. In addition, the script implies that the Soviet people continued to fight only because they had a hero, Vassily, to inspire them. I have a sneaking suspicion that World War II wasn't quite so simplistic. However, none of these problems are beyond the help of a good film editor. This is a movie that really needed be re-cut before release. Enemy at the Gates is a pan-European production, which in this case could have been improved by applying the Hollywood editing formula. I'm no expert, but I'd say about twenty minutes could easily have been deleted without affecting the central story, deletions that would also have tightened up the slow moving second act quite nicely.
The next problem is the special effects work. I'm amazed that any film this side of Tokyo would use computer generated effects as poorly executed as the ones in Enemy at the Gates. The film features fighter planes and bombers that fly around exactly the way that bricks don't, computerized boats that seem to hover above equally digital waterlines, and many other smaller effects that are just as unconvincing.
On the upside, the acting in Enemy at the Gates is quite good, as is the directing. Also, there are a handful of truly suspenseful scenes which almost balance out the uneven ones. As a whole, Enemy at the Gates does deliver a dramatic, supposedly true story with believable characters and a fair amount of action. If you can overlook the mediocre effects, most of the love story, and a plethora of strangely non-German, non-Russian accents, then it's worth the matinee price.
Directed By: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Starring: Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins,
Ron Perlman, Gabriel Thomson
MPAA: Rated R (Violence / Language / Sexuality)
Running Time: 131 Min.
March 16, 2001
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