It's Stalingrad, late 1942. A young Russian sharpshooter is picking off Germans at will, bringing a much-needed lift to a demoralized Soviet army. The impatient Nazis send their top sniper to kill the man. A World War diminishes in scope to a battle of two. With such a promising plot, absolutely ripe for gutsy drama and emotion, why does Enemy at the Gates ultimately fail?

First, and foremost, because of its screenplay. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet, The Bear) and partner Alain Godard take a horrific true tale and sap it of its energy, irony, and tension. It starts off impressively enough: Russian soliders are immediately gunned down as they arrive in Stalingrad -- if not by the enemy, then by their own officers, who kill the boys when they retreat in terror. Vassily Zaitsev (Jude Law) becomes an instant hero when he plays dead, and in sniper fashion, shoots a number of unsuspecting Nazis.

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