Review: Enemy at the Gates (movie)

Posted: June 4, 2009 in Movie Reviews, War
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enemy-at-the-gatesI saw this film by Jean-Jaques Annaud when it came out in the cinemas. What I remember most vividly is the opening scene. Certainly on the big screen it was amazing – because it was so utterly horrifying.

However, I felt that from then on it lost its impact. So much so that while I kind of enjoyed it at the cinema, I never bothered to buy the DVD until it was really cheap to add to my substantial war and action film collection.

The cast is excellent, such as Jude Law, Ralph Fiennes, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, but it didn’t grip me beyond being interesting.

Amazon’s reviewer Jeff Shannon wrote a review that I very much agree with:

Enemy at the Gates opens with a pivotal event of World War II–the German invasion of Stalingrad–recreated in Saving Private Ryan-like epic scale as ill-trained Russian soldiers face German attack or punitive execution if they flee from the enemy’s advance. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud captures this madness with urgent authenticity, creating a massive context for a more intimate battle waged amidst the city’s ruins. Embellished from its basis in fact, the story shifts to an intense cat-and-mouse game between a Russian shepherd raised to iconic fame, and a German marksman whose skill is unmatched in its lethal precision. Vassily Zaitzev (Jude Law) has been sniping Nazis one bullet at a time, while the German Major Konig (Ed Harris) has been assigned to kill Vassily and spare Hitler from further embarrassment. There’s love in this war, too, as Vassily connects with a woman soldier (Rachel Weisz), but she is also loved by Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), the Soviet officer who promotes his friend Vassily as Russia’s much-needed hero. This romantic rivalry lends marginal interest to the central plot, but it’s not enough to make this a classic war film. Instead it’s a taut, well-made suspense thriller isolated within an epic battle, and although Annaud and cowriter Alain Godard (drawing from William Craig’s book and David L Robbins’ novel The War of the Rats) fail to connect the parallel plots with any lasting impact, the production is never less than impressive. Highly conventional but handled with intelligence and superior craftsmanship, this is warfare as strategic entertainment, without compromising warfare as a man-made hell on Earth. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

It is worth buying the film, because you can get the DVD cheap nowadays. If only for the opening scene.

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