Enemy at the Gates movie poster
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Enemy at the Gates movie poster

Enemy at the Gates Movie Review

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Unlimited movies can be made about World War II and it possible that every single one can be good, but it is unlikely. In the midst of masterpieces such as Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line comes Enemy at the Gates, the latest World War II picture to hit theaters. Starring Jude Law, Ed Harris, Joseph Fiennes, and Rachel Weisz, this French production gives us a look at the war from a viewpoint we usually don't see, that of the Russians.

Almost immediately, we are thrust into the bloody battlefield called Stalingrad, where the entire movie takes place. The city has been all but destroyed, bombed and pillaged to near extinction. Civilians are trying to get out of the city without success, and more and more soldiers are being put into the city, only every other one with a gun. The soldiers that try to flee are killed by their own superiors, and the only other alternative are the German machine guns.

But Enemy at the Gates quickly takes us out of the World War II we've come to expect and puts us in the mind of the sniper, the apparent victory-clinchers in the Battle of Stalingrad.

Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), who really fought in the war, quickly rises to power as the city's top sniper. He is good, but is he that good? That's what the papers suggest, as the Russians spit out propaganda to help keep morale up. However, because of his fame, a German sniper (Ed Harris) is brought in to kill him, and he shows that he may be too much for our Russian hero.

What Enemy at the Gates presents is three stories. The first of which is the Battle of Stalingrad as a whole, where the Russians and Germans sort through the rubble, killing each other as soon as they see each other. The second story is about two men, Jude Law and Ed Harris, duking it out in a game of wits and skill. The third story is about a love triangle between two snipers, Law and Rachel Weisz, and a political officer, Joseph Fiennes, who quickly finds himself watching the relationship unfold without his involvement. The movie seems to have its priorities mixed up. I think the most interesting of the three stories is the Battle of Stalingrad as a whole, yet that is the one given the least attention. We never see the beginning of the siege and we never see the end, and we don't get that good of a picture of the civilian life in the city. However, this battle does take place in part between the snipers, which is the focus of the movie, and I can't complain about how this was handled. Unfortunately, what is given heavy weight is the relationship side, which is good for creating emotion (especially if one of the people was to be killed) but bad for a movie in general, since it slows it down. People came to this movie to see a depiction of war, not love.

I was bored through much of this movie. I hate to compare Enemy at the Gates to a film with such grandness of Saving Private Ryan, but I need to do this to get my point across. Enemy at the Gates has some vivid and bloody battle scenes, especially at the beginning, and while it isn't as good as Spielberg's depiction, it is bloody damn close. What keeps this movie apart from its better counterpart is that while Ryan focused on war, Gates focuses on emotion, and the result is not what the director intended. The depiction of the war is cut up by long scenes involving Rachel Weisz and Jude Law, and also scenes between Law and Fiennes.

My next annoyance could be good or bad depending how you look at it. Since this is a French production, the film is not about Russian glory. I do not expect it to be, but the Russians are still the protagonists. However, the film seems to depict everything in what seems like a realistic portrayal, where Russians are killing other Russians, Russians are lying to Russians to keep their morale up, and so forth. While it seems like the director is trying to be honest, it also seems that he is trying to confuse the audience, since the good guys are not that good. In fact, the movie seems to make fun of and criticize Russian propaganda at several times, especially in the cheesy scenes between Law and Fiennes (as mentioned in my 'Boring' section) where Fiennes explains to Law how he is holding the city on his shoulders alone.

The movie also awkwardly sways on the Germans. For the most part, the Germans are left as ominous killers, as they are in most Allied-produced films. However, Enemy at the Gates is kind enough to personify the Germans a little bit, in Ed Harris's character, the sniper that goes after Law. While we never get to see the nationalistic ideals in Harris, we are given the opportunity of seeing the Germans as being people, not just silhouettes waiting to be killed. Of course, after Ed Harris talks about respect and kindness, he hangs a kid which immediately turns the audience against him, just in time for the final climatic scene.

As far as acting goes, I was also a little disappointed. People were talking about Jude Law being a rising star after his turn as an American playboy in The Talented Mr. Ripley, but Enemy at the Gates shows that he still has a lot to learn. His emotion seems flat. I am a Rachel Weisz fan but her character did nothing for me here. Ed Harris, a very honorable actor, seems out of place in this foreign film. And Joseph Fiennes, who I believe should have at least earned a nomination for his role in Shakespeare in Love (and then Elizabeth), is the worst of all, but that may be due in part to the fact that his character is horribly written. I also did not like how Russian and German accents were ignored, and both sides decided to speak with British accents (so it is a French production with English and American actors speaking with English accents while posing as Russians and Germans). It doesn't make any sense.

Enemy at the Gates should be honored for presenting the Russian tragedies of World War II, and delivering a grim portrayal of the Battle of Stalingrad. It should be slammed for sidelining the war for a romance tale, and for neglecting to allow its actors to attempt some foreign accents. Some parts are good, but a lot of the movie is a waste of time.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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