Enemy At The Gates


Directed by: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Written by:Jean-Jacques Annaud, Alain Godard
Starring: Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins, Ed Harris, Ron Perlman
Released: July 26, 2001
Grade: A-

It’s September 1942 and at the WWII battle of Stalingrad, the Russians are on the verge of being defeated by the Germans.  The latest attempt to defend Stalin’s namesake city has failed and Commissar Nikita Kruschev (Hoskins) has arrived from Moscow to make the situation right.

Questioning his troops, he finds advice in Commissar Danilov (Fiennes) who also acts as a newspaper writer in publishing articles about the war.  He came across a brave young soldier named Sergeant Vassili Zaitsev (Law) who despite the gravity of the situation he faced, killed five leading German soldiers and lived to tell the tale.  Danilov suggests that he write of Vassili in the newspaper and his story will inspire the people of Russia to rally against the Germans.

Vassili’s infamy grows as stories spread of his deadly aim and Danilov continues to publish his accomplishments for all of Russia to read.  The tag of a “war leader” doesn’t sit well with Vassili who now finds himself a wanted man.  Respected German sniper Major Erwin Konig (Harris) has been sent from Berlin with the assignment of eliminating him.  Vassili now has to watch his back with every step he takes.

The film begins with the obligatory scene setting that we’ve come to expect from recent war flicks.  We see the shooting, the fighting, the killing and I understand the seriousness of the situation but it’s hard not to be bored since we’ve seen this over and over again.  After this introduction, Enemy At The Gates improves dramatically as the very interesting true story is told.  Instead of continuing to show us the horrors of the war, we are glued by the simple story of two men hunting each other.

The whole cast deliver excellent performances.  Law and Fiennes are strong and don’t overact or rely on unnecessary dialogue to express themselves - it’s as if they don’t know they’re being filmed.  Rachel Weisz plays a love interest that divides the two and is an ideal casting choice.  She offers much more to period pieces (such as Sunshine and Swept From The Sea) than some of her more conventional films (The Mummy and The Mummy Returns).  Ed Harris is great too as the German sniper – the look he gives is one of fear.

As one of the best war films since Saving Private Ryan, Enemy At The Gates is a compelling movie.  It proves that you don’t need million dollars stunts to create suspense.  A story about heroes and their true importance.