Enemy at the Gates
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Review by Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I am going to be honest. I don't usually like war movies. I think they simplify wars by creating good guys and bad guys and casting horrible deeds as heroics and glory. I saw this movie because I love Jude Law. He's beautiful and an excellent actor, and I don't think he works enough. But I liked this movie, and I would have liked it even if Jude Law wasn't in it.
The film is set in Stalingrad during World War II. The Germans are attacking the city, and the Russians are throwing young men like cattle into its defense. Russian morale is low and Stalin's envoy, Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins), is sent to Stalingrad to bolster the troops. After rejecting the suggestion of just continuing to shoot losing generals and deport their families, Khrushchev accepts a suggestion from Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), the editor of the Russian army newspaper, that they create a positive example: a hero. Danilov then publishes a story about Vassily Zaitsev (Jude Law), a young man from the countryside who is an excellent sniper and German killer. Under the tutelage of Danilov, Vassily becomes a hero. His actions are written about daily, and he answers fan mail. He also becomes the target of Germany's best sniper, Major Koenig (Ed Harris). Vassily must kill Koenig before Koenig kills him. This is made more difficult by Vassily's own fear, and a love triangle that develops between Vassily, Danilov, and Tania (Rachel Weisz), a female Russian soldier.
This is not a glorious war film. The Russians are as ruthless in their determination to win as the Germans. Both sides do horrible things to each other and to their own soldiers. Vassily is a hero because Danilov made him one, and he comes to regret his standing not just because it makes him Koenig's target, but also because so many others die trying to be like him.
The performances are all exceptional. Jude Law did not disappoint in the slightest and Ed Harris has an intensity that makes watching him sit interesting. Special praise must go to Bob Hoskins as Khrushchev and Ron Perlman as the bitter Russian sniper, Koulikov. Both men shine in relatively small roles. The direction, production design, and costumes all work seamlessly together to create a dirty, nasty, desperate atmosphere.
There was one major problem: the music. The score by James Horner is awful. There were moments when the music did not match the action on the screen -- loud drumbeats when two men are trying to sneak quietly through a pipe. Other times the music added humor to a tense seen by being too overwrought -- the angelic chorus that swelled every time Vassily aimed his gun. The film would have been much more gripping if silence was used more often rather than a wall of sound.
There was also one annoying stand off between Vassily and Koenig where the coincidences that keep them from shooting each other were just too many to tolerate. This was only a minor problem; it could be forgiven. It is the music that keeps this film from 3 1/2 stars.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Enemy at the Gates (2001)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings