|Gripping. Right off the bat. Enemy at the Gates starts out at a run and keeps the pace almost to the end. I say almost, because it is a little long. But hey, it's a war film, so I won't belabor the point. Something I will focus on though is the way this film begins. Usually with war pictures there is some kind of prologue to the fighting. Or some event that spurs a nation or person into action. But with this film, the world is already at war. The film starts during the siege of stalingrad with german forces fighting against a very weak and disorganized russian army.|
Jude Law plays "Vassili," a young sharpshooter who is sent with other troops across the river to confront the Nazi forces that threaten to overrun the last remaining Russian hurdle that stands in the Germans' way of conquering the country. Law's character, once on land, impresses an officer named "Danilov," played by Joseph Fiennes when he shoots several german officers, killing them all with single shots to the head. So that I don't spend the rest of the review talking about the plot for this film (which is pretty relevant for all the topics I'm going to cover), below is a short summary of the film, which I found on excite's movie pages
"Inspired by a true story and set against the siege of stalingrad during World War II, this is the epic tale of a young russian sharpshooter, Vassili, who becomes a legend when a savvy political officer makes him the hero of his propaganda campaign. Their friendship is threatened when both men fall in love with a beautiful female soldier. As the battle for the city rages, Vassili faces his ultimate challenge when the Nazi command dispatches its most elite marksman to hunt down and kill the man who has become the hope of all Russia. Their fierce and astonishing duel will help shape the course of history."
It is interesting to note that this story is considered by some to be pure Russian propaganda. Researchers have said that there was never any record of an ss officer (the character played by Ed Harris) being sent to take out the Russian sharpshooter. And in all fairness, the film does spend some time on the fact that Danilov has made Vassili into a hero through over-zealous writing and a Russian printing press. But historical truth aside, this picture does create a very realistic portrayal of a war being fought by exhausted troops in desolate conditions. Realistic in that the cinematography looks to have been designed so as to show as much graphic violence as is possible through the camera.
It was almost possible to feel how cold the air and weather around stalingrad was during the battles. The element of a frozen russian winter was very vivid. It wasn't a glossed over version of a war. Perhaps the best achievement by this film the cinematography though. The story, although gripping from beginning to end, didn't bring me close to any particular character. I can say that the characters were interesting, but I didn't feel enough empathy for them. Sure, the battle between the russian sharpshooter and the german ss officer was a nail-biter, but as for caring about the specific characters, it was more that the editing and story was what kept me viewing.
I must say though that the fact that this story was told from the perspective of the Russian and German forces was particularly interesting. It wasn't the usual "Americans against the Nazis" line. And the look and feel of the war wasn't glossed over. This film was bloody, realistic and not a piece of filmmaking that glorified the art of war. The only shortcoming for this film was probably the failure to layer a more sympathetic story for the character above the theme of war. The love story and the war seemed almost separate at times and not complimentary towards one another. But perhaps this was because the film seemed to slow down in the middle. Whether this was caused by the film's length (which was almost two and a half hours) or faults in the casting or story line, I don't know.
But what is clear is that this film was a gigantic undertaking both in financial terms and emotional content. An epic that takes place over a few months instead of a few years is a dramatic undertaking and without a story that melds convincingly to a backdrop of war, you end up with a disjointed film that doesn't always hold together. A performance which i have to point out as being more than decent was that of Ed Harris's portrayal of the hard-edged ss officer intent on bringing down the hope of the Russian army. Every scene he was in was captivating, probably because of that quiet grace he always is able to exude on the screen. I don't know how he does it, but he just can't be anything but sensational in films.
Not to be forgotten though are the performances of the other three main characters. I haven't even mentioned Rachel Weisz's role as the girl end of a love triangle that exists between Jude and Joseph's characters. It's a very politically correct version of a female sharpshooter in the midst of the war, who proves than boys aren't the only ones good with guns. A very nice addition. i sometimes wonder if this element is based in any way on fact. I doubt very much that it was, however, it was gratifying to see the filmmakers attempt to pacify the feminists in the audience.
Another role worth writing a few words about was Bob Hoskins's role as the nearly insane Russian officer "Nikita." Bob gives a wild performance as one of the people responsible for bringing moral to the troops. A nice peripheral character that adds some flavor to that desolate russian landscape. So the verdict? A movie worth seeing on the big screen if only for its fantastic use of cinematography and the notable performances by a nearly completely British cast playing at being Russians and Germans. Who just happen to have English accents. Just a quirk, I suppose, but still a visually stunning movie.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.