Enemy At The Gates Movie Review

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.

That's well-paced, edge-of-your-seat stuff, primarily because we haven't been introduced to Vassily, and don't yet know of his talents. But we soon learn, as does Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), a witness to Vassily's daring actions, who quickly makes him a symbol of Russian pride and propaganda.

The dialogue between Danilov and Vassily rapidly becomes stilted, chest-thumping, men-in-war drivel, aiming for the proud heart of the viewer and ending up shooting itself in the foot. Unfortunately, this carries over into much of the film, and denies some solid actors even half a chance.

That illuminates the second problem: the acting. It's tough to tell where the bad dialogue ends, and the overdone performances begin. Law provides a glimmer of hope, playing Vassily as humble and understated (though with nary a shade of horror). Fiennes is ridiculous as Danilov, giving us too much scowling and way too much feigned pride. And Ed Harris, as the Nazi sniper Koenig, seems to be just going through the motions of an amazingly underwritten part. Most laughable, however, is Bob Hoskins as Khrushchev, bellowing lines like "You've lost half your men!? Well, lose the other half!" Why on Earth are a bunch of Russians speaking with subdued British accents?

The final problem in this analysis: Annaud takes no advantage of the story. We see no parallels, no dichotomy, no irony between Vassily and Koenig. Enemy at the Gates would have gained greatly from some link between the two men, something to make the viewer have to think. Instead, the "relationship" flounders in uncharted territory, as Annaud drags us through scenes that feel just like the ones before. There's even a misplaced romantic triangle somewhere in there (leading, by the way, to a love scene that's one of the few emotional and honest parts of the film).

For its 2:10 running time, Enemy at the Gates sounds stuffed to the gills and looks like an epic, but it ultimately feels empty. You'll be thinking of Saving Private Ryan during this -- and wishing you'd stayed home and watched that on DVD instead.

If however you find yourself faced with the Enemy at the Gates DVD, you'll find a number of extras, including a handful of deleted scenes that provide a little more backstory and add to the irony of the last act. Two making-of shorts are throwaways, but the biggest complaint with this disc is an awful sound design. In order to appeal to speaker enthusiasts, every explosion on this DVD is boosted to about twice the volume it ought to be at. I found myself constantly turning the volume down when the walls started shaking, only to turn it back up 30 seconds later because I couldn't hear the dialogue. Truly annoying. Stalin would have had someone shot.

Enemy on the wall.

Comments

Enemy At The Gates Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2001

Advertisement

More Jude Law

Keira Knightley eyeing up The Typist film role

Keira Knightley is considering a role in Fox's adaptation of 'The Typist'.The 29-year-old actress is in talks to star in the forthcoming film based on...

Is 'Dom Hemingway' Star Jude Law One Of Hollywood's Best Actors?

When you’re Jude Law it’s hard not to get a little typecast. Having spent most of his career with a mop of blond hair that...

America, Are You Ready For 'Dom Hemingway' and a Chubby, Naked Jude Law?

In American memories of Jude Law are mainly fond. His inconsistent and often wooden performances just come across as English charm, while his good looks...

Jude Law Almost Unrecognisable As A Hot-Tempered Safecracker In 'Dom Hemingway'

Jude Law is considered one of Hollywood's hottest heartthrobs, with his chiselled cheekbones and English charm, but now the 41 year-old actor looks nearly unrecognizable...

Advertisement

'Dom Hemingway': Jude Law Takes A Gritty Role In A Low-Budget Meathead Of A Movie [Trailer]

US audiences will finally be able to clap eyes on the gritty British flick, Dom Hemingway, which stars Jude Law. The Richard Shepard-directed film sees...

The Grand Budapest Hotel Movie Review

Wes Anderson's entertaining filmmaking style clicks beautifully into focus for this comical adventure. Films like The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom are packed with amazing...

The Grand Budapest Hotel Trailer

The cast and crew of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' discuss the story, the main characters' relationship and the duties of the concierge in the latest...

Grand Budapest Hotel Trailer

Gustave may be aloof and snobbish in many ways, but he's also extremely charming with a good heart and a titanic personality. As result he...

Advertisement