By Rich Cline
The massive scale of this film kind of distracts us from the more subtle plotting, obliterating any emotional connection with the thinly written characters. But it looks terrific, and offers an unusual perspective on the pivotal WWII battle for this strategic Russian city on the shores of the Volga River. It's also packed with gigantic set-pieces rendered in explosive 3D.
As Hitler's army advances across Russia in 1942, they find unusual resistance in Stalingrad, as pockets of resistance fight back while Russian soldiers replenish the forces from across the river. After one particularly brutal battle, five Russian soldiers led by Captain Gromov (Fyodorov) hole up in a vitally positioned building, where they discover 18-year-old Katya (Smolnikova) hiding. Each of the men falls for her, using her as inspiration as they fend off assaults from the tenacious German Captain Kahn (Kretschmann), who also has a young Russian woman (Studilina) he's in love with. But this stand-off can't go on forever.
Strangely, this story is framed by scenes set during the rescue effort after Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as a relief worker recounts the story of his mother Katya and his "five fathers". These sequences are also elaborately re-created with digital effects, but his implausibly all-knowing narration muddles the film's main plot. Through him we get the back-stories of all five men: the soulful Astakhov (Bondarchuk), sardonic Polyakov (Smokyakov), cheeky Chvanov (Lysenkov), mute-artistic Nikiforov (Barabash) and of course the tough-handsome Gromov. All of these men are relentlessly heroic in anecdotes that feel like they're lifted from urban legends, incluiding battlefield miracles and the creation of a steamy bath for Katya's birthday.
By contrast, Kretschmann's character feels much more realistic simply because he has some moral complexity (of course he's also relentlessly vicious). His character grounds the otherwise over-the-top production, suggesting that this is based on a real conflict that probably didn't revolve around two sexy young women. The entire cast is watchable, and the visual effects are seriously eye-catching, but only a hint of thoughtful subtext reminds us that this was actually the deadliest battle in human history. On the other hand, this film would rather get the audience cheering for the heroic Russians than explore that reality.
Watch 'Stalingrad' Trailer
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Thursday 21st January 1993
Distributed by: Fox Lorber
Production compaines: B.A. Produktion, Bavaria Film, Perathon Film-und Fernsehproduktions, Royal Film
Cast & Crew
Director: Fedor Bondarchuk
Producer: Sergey Melkumov, Alexander Rodnyansky, Dmitriy Rudovskiy
Screenwriter: Sergey Snezhkin, Ilya Tilkin
Starring: Dominique Horwitz as Obergefreiter Fritz Reiser, Thomas Kretschmann as Leutnant Hans von Witzland, Jochen Nickel as Unteroffizier Manfred 'Rollo' Rohleder, Sebastian Rudolph as GeGe Müller, Dana Vávrová as Irina, Martin Benrath as General Hentz, Sylvester Groth as Otto, Karel Heřmánek Sr. as Hauptmann Hermann Musk, Heinz Emigholz as Edgar Emigholz, Oliver Broumis as HGM, Dieter Okras as Hauptmann Haller, Zdeněk Vencl as Wölk, Mark Kuhn as Unteroffizier Pflüger