Newest Review: ... to the front line. Unfortunately for him and others around him, the Russians are suffering thousands of casualties at the hands of the Ger... more
A Game Of High Stakes Hide 'n' Seek
Enemy at the Gates (DVD)
Member Name: wampyrii
Enemy at the Gates (DVD)
Date: 26/01/03, updated on 26/01/03 (168 review reads)
Advantages: Looks nice
Disadvantages: Boring with a silly love story tossed in
War! Huh! What is it good for?...erm, aside from making Hollywood money and deflecting attention away from problems with your economy anyway? But this is 1942 and the setting is Stalingrad in the middle of the conflict which will turn out to be one of the major factors in Hitler's downfall. As Napolean saw that Stalingrad was the key to cracking Russia, so too did Hitler and as the French failed to take Russia, so too again, did Hitler. The conflict over control of Stalingrad turned into a personal battle between Stalin and Hitler and the pig-headed refusal to back down and the heavy losses they suffered because of it was undoubtedly a major factor in the failure of the Nazis on the Western front. This movie however has no intention of looking at the broad perspective of the war but instead focuses upon a small band of (real) individuals and tells the story through their involvement in the conflict. In some ways it works, in many more it doesn't.
The movie opens well, with scenes which are reminscent to the opening of Saving Private Ryan. New recruits are bundled into crude boats and sent across the river into Stalingrad whilst heavy shelling decimates the city and aircraft swoop down picking them off with the greatest of ease. Those who try to jump ship and swim to safety are shot by their own officers as deserters, those who make it have a one in two chance of actually getting a gun or being sent into the conflict weaponless and being told to follow someone else around and use their gun when they inevitably take a bullet themselves. It's a tough and bloody opening and it's a damn impressive start. Unfortunately, it goes downhill fast.
The centre of the story is the real life figure of Vassili Zaitsev(Jude Law), a whizz with a rifle who is recognised by political officer Danilov(Joseph Fiennes) as being a huge asset to the army and enlisted as a sniper. Rather than forcing their troops into the affray and keeping them in order wit
h the threat of a bullet if they should offer up and kind of dissention Denilov proposes to Nikita Khruschev(Bob Hoskins) that they should instead give the men something to aspire to, something to motivate them and turns Zaitsev into a folk hero by reporting daily upon the number of officers etc. he has picked off through the daily propaganda leaflet drops. Soon the ruined city is awash with snipers and the German army finds themselves locked down by fear, replacing officers several times a day because as soon as one appears in view he ends up with a sniper's bullet in his head. They bring in their own sniper hero Major Konig(Ed Harris) to pick off Zaitsev for a little of their own propaganda and it is the battle of wills between these two which the movie then focuses upon...
...well kind of focuses upon. You see, mainstream cinema being what it is, we also have to throw in a stupid love triangle which is handled with all the aplomb of a soap opera subplot. Denilov wants Tania(Rachel Weisz), one of the Russian's many female recruits but she wants Zaitsev and he wants her so Denilov decides to collapse Zaitsev's reputation in revenge and ugh, sorry, 'tis awful nonsense which apparently has nothing to do with the real historical facts, isn't worthy of any screen time and certainly not worthy of me writing about. Suffice to say, it succeeds in being very crap and takes up far too much screen time.
So, is Enemy At The Gates worth your viewing time? Umm, the battle scenes are excellent, the special effects are good and the opening 20-30 minutes bring the brutality of Communist Russia during wartime into really sharp focus but aside from that it's all rather mediocre. The casting I had something of a hard time with for starters. It was difficult to take it all that seriously when all the actors speak in rather plumby English accents(no attempt to sound even a little Russian then?) and then you've got Bob Hoskins as Nikita Khru
schev! Rachel Weisz simply can't act and again proves it coming across as the same character you saw in The Mummy but in a Russian army uniform, Hoskins just growls and shouts a lot(although does bear some resemblance to Kruschev) whilst Jude Law does a reasonably good job of looking lost as you'd expect from a sheep farmer turned hero of the Russian army. Ed Harris on the other hand is absolutely magnificent as Major Konig but his the only really good performance of the lot of them.
I found the poor casting was one contributing factor to me finding it very difficult to get into this movie, not aided by the very impersonal directorial style adopted here which refuses to let you get close to the characters, certainly not close enough to care about them. The real people in the conflict are kept at arms length and it is obvious the love triangle element was thrown in to give audiences something to latch onto in view of this(reminded me rather unfortunately of the similar tripe in Pearl Harbor) but it's all too clumsy to work. Furthermore, the very nature of it's main theme scuttles any attempt to generate the kind of tension you'd expect from a movie about a cat and mouse game played out between two top snipers, as you know neither is actually going to shoot the other until sometime near the end, if at all, or the movie will be over! Safe in that knowledge Enemy At The Gates becomes little more than watching two men stumbling around amongst the rubble with a silly love triangle thrown it to add something else to it all. Not my idea of fun and I was bored by the 60 minute mark with another 65 to go...
This could have been a more interesting movie if it had had the intelligence to explore some of its more interesting themes. We are given a taste of the importance and the power of propaganda during war time and a sniff at history(albeit inaccurate as you'd expect - but who cares) but this is glossed over in favour of a cat and mo
use game with 60 minutes of enforced and obvious padding and some silly interpersonal canoodlings which simply do not have a place in a war film, at least, not when handled quite this badly. "The action is powerful, the drama intense" according to the back of my DVD casing...erm, I expect, and not for the first time, that Jonathan Ross, from whose pen the quote comes, watched an entirely different movie to me, or perhaps was commenting only on the first 20 minutes in which case I would entirely agree. Shame the rest is a bit pants. Nice visuals, weak movie and the DVD, should you be interested, doesn't play the extras on all players. Geesh!