Tagged in: 13 years too late

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.)



Entrapment (1999)


Entrapment (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)

Dreadful Connery/Zeta-Jones rom-heist effort that just about saw off his career and made her bendy arse a star. 

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

This review was written 13 years too late

This dog of movie sees Sean Connery as a master thief (as opposed to a 60+ amateur – now there’s a film) being pursued by insurance investigator Catherine ZJ. ‘Cept she’s not an investigator but in fact a thief, who’s been drudging it out in a New York insurance office for years as she sets up her one big deal.

She needs Sean to help her. Or something. Or what? She seems to stroll into his life while the wily old Scot instantly detects her investigation of him and turns the tables on her in a yawn-yawn opening first act. She’s a thief. She’s not. She loves him. He doesn’t love her. He does. Blah. Who cares as the waffle trundles on as they work together in his loch-side castle, planning to rob a gold mask.

This heist shows the film’s barely “notorious” scene of ZJ bending and twisting through a series of invisible-to-her laser alarm beams. We get to see loads of her arse and body contorting and thrusting into the camera. My choice of words in the preceding sentence is deliberate, as crass as the filmmaking employed for the sequence, indeed, the whole thrill-less film. Whatever happened to tension, suspense and edge-of-the-seat set-pieces? They get their mask and escape. Who would have thought?

Connery’s performance is sadly a film too far, though coming just a few years after “The Rock“, where he comfortably and enjoyably pulled off the aged action hero. Here, it really shows. Really. No manner of carefully scuplted wig or angled, razor-neat beard give him the solid maturity he had in Michael Bay‘s OTT Alcatraz Island action-thriller. In “Entrapment“, he’s just old. He’s as befuddled as the dotty tourist he poses as in order to move unnoticed through the crowds.

You can’t blame him for the passing of time, but you can blame him for making the film. Hollywood’s old curmudgeon, who hates the system that pretty much made him, should have said no to this one. And no to casting Zeta-Jones too. They work together about as well as iron and wine. The romantic interludes are embarrassing, and while no one ever says, “You’re old enough to be my father” or some variation thereof, it’s going through the mind of every viewer. It’s more creepy than sexy, more pathetic than passionate.

Usually, I am a big defender of nonsense in films, arguing that I don’t need realism, in fact I go to escape it, like many of us. That said, it’s hard to ignore Sean Connery in a blue boiler suit marching through a Taiwan hotel basement disguised as a handy man. Or Catherine ZJ being able to escape the clutches of Taiwan’s police despite being witnessed by loads of them post-heist. Either they are dumb or she’s clever, but let’s face facts – a woman as beautiful and seen as she should have problems moving unnoticed in East Asia.

Connery’s acting, while never first class, is dreadful here, really tired, like some saddo standup from the 70s doing a bad impression on him. I actually found myself feeling sorry for him. This film really was the end of the road for a great screen presence, a finality that was finally, and critically and commercial confirmed, two features and four years later with the reviled “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen“.

A couple of “What ifs”  haunt Connery’s career. The first is if he’d stayed on for the one more Bond after “You Only Live Twice”, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” – how much better would that film have been with Connery. But no. Jump forward a few decades and Connery said no to Gandalf in Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. What a fitting end to a life in film that would have been.

Instead, we have this, “Finding Forrester“, and “The League…”

Catherine has, and will have more, countless opportunities to shape her career. But this was almost Sean’s swansong. A swansong that made 200,000 USD + at the box office.

So what do I know, eh? Well, shite when I see it.