Enemy at the Gates (2001)

4af8dbd8a6Impressive take on WW2 from a different perspective as two snipers go head-to-head in 1942 Stalingrad.

Rating: ★★★½☆

This review was written 13 years too late

Vasili Zaytsev (Jude Law) is farm-trained sharpshooter who finds himself in the middle of the defence of Stalingrad – and political propaganda – as his marksmanship makes him an inspiration to demoralised Soviet troops.

All the time he is egged on by the Commissar he saved, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), who sees him as the man to lead the morale in the defence of the city. Meanwhile, beautiful Tania (Rachel Weisz), is in both mens’ hearts.

It’s all true. No, really. There really was a Russian sniper called Vasili Zaytsev. He did record hundreds of kills. The Germans did try to take Stalingrad. There was a love triangle between Zaytsev, Danilov and Tania. There was a German “king” sniper called Konig, there was a little boy double-agent called Sacha who… But yes, you know. There’s but a fraction of truth in these frames of film.

Jude lays down the Law with his rifle

Jude lays down the Law with his rifle

Thankfully, the frames of the film are entertaining and well put together. At least, for about 75% of the movie. Vasili’s journey to the front lines and what he finds there make for compelling viewing, while his emergence as a sniper and subsequent propaganda pin-up give the film additional dimensions. The arrival of Ed Harris as his German equivalent sent to kill him is also good stuff.

It’s a terrific looking production, capturing a war-torn city and full of brutal combat sequences. What lets “Enemy at the Gates” down however is the poorly executed love triangle between Law, Weisz and Fiennes. In fact, it’s barely a triangle. Fiennes ogles Wiesz from afar and offers to bring her into his family’s not inconsiderable influence for a better life. She barely acknowledges him, and instead her and Law ride themselves silly in silence.

Nifty, stylish credits

Nifty, angled credits in a Soviet-stylee

Fiennes never quite gets jealous enough, nor Weisz infatuated enough with him to create any tension. Fiennes is more simpering on the sidelines as Weisz and Law get it on.

Weisz – and it’s not her fault – has really nothing do in this film other function as an object of affection. You could take her character out along with the luvey-dovey stuff, and the film would have benefited from a tighter focus on the duelling snipers and a battle ravaged city. Ed Harris doesn’t really get enough to do either, but the late Bob Hoskins excels as a badgering Nikita Krushchev. Law is passable enough as sniper hero Zaytsev.

Despite all that, “Enemy at the Gates” is a still a sniper film worth scoping out. (Sorry.)

Trailer

 

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