Home Year 2001 Enemy At The Gates (2001)

Enemy At The Gates (2001)

The Primark sale was due to start at any moment. Jude Law was ready.
The Primark sale was due to start at any moment. Jude Law was ready.

Twitter Plot Summary: A game of cat and mouse plays out between a Russian and a German sniper during the battle of Stalingrad.

Genre: Drama/History/Thriller/War

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud

Key Cast: Jude Law, Ed Harris, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins, Ron Perlman.

Five Point Summary:

1. Just so happens that Jude law is a crack shot.
2. Bob Hoskins makes an impressive looking Russian.
3. Ed Harris – a formidable figure in that uniform.
4. Ahh, the love triangle thing means vengeance is necessary.
5. The futility of war summed up in the final third.

As far as movies are concerned, the conflict on the Eastern Front has not received as much attention as other aspects of the war. Perhaps understandably, Western cinema is more interested in the battles being fought a little closer to home, the D-Day landings in particular. More recently we’ve started to see more combat from other theatres of war in both film and television, and the Eastern Front has started to get some of the attention it deserves.

Vasiley Zaitsev (Law) reaches Stalingrad at a critical point in the fight. Men are cut down left, right and centre by strafing Luftwaffe forces, and it’s likely that the city will fall to the Germans very shortly. For anyone who knows their military history they’ll know that ultimately the Russians were able to push the German forces back, but even so it’s a good way of establishing the stakes early on. Enemy At The Gates takes place during this conflict, but reduces the scope (aha! A sniping pun!) to the rivalry between Zaitsev and Ed Harris’s accomplished German sniper Major Konig. In these situations you either focus on a small aspect of the fight (Saving Private Ryan) or you look at the whole thing (The Longest Day). At their lowest ebb and caught at their most desperate, the Russian army choose to use propaganda to give their troops courage in the face of adversity. You know, rather than shoot deserters and waste bullets and stuff.

Bob Hoskins cuts an imposing figure as a Russian general, like an angry vole. Ed Harris, similarly, is just as imposing in a German uniform. Cold and calculating even when revelations about his personal life (which also explain why he’s there) come to the fore. Then there’s Ron Perlman who has to inflict us with a cheeky chirpy English accent despite being Russian, apart from that he’s good as always. This whole English accent: Russian/American accent: German thing would be far better if the Germans all had American accents. Instead they’re a mix of American and German. Very confusing.

You mean you were expecting an actual German to play this role? Nein!
You mean you were expecting an actual German to play this role? Nein!

I will throw one complaint forward for discussion – the arbitrary need to include a love story/triangle in this already tense personal conflict is wholly unnecessary and for me adds nothing. There’s also the small matter of James Horner’s completely derivative score to consider as well – he blatantly lifts the melody from John Williams’ Schindler’s List score. Let’s just say that the music fits with the tone of the movie, but I will never rate Horner as a composer.

The scenes of battle are visceral and as near to accuracy as cinema can provide without throwing you into combat in person. The true horrors of war are not hidden from view, and from a purely historical perspective I agree with this approach. There’s a tendency to glorify warfare or show it in a sanitised light, which I’m not a fan of. If we’re going to learn anything from history, in particular the ultimate futility of war, then we need to see the bloodshed, see the violence, see the impact it has on the soldiers and civilians caught up in it.

Enemy At The Gates is certainly stylish, and the cat and mouse games between the two snipers are well structured. It’s the love story that drags it down from being excellent to passable. But then it’s human nature to have romantic interactions in most films, so I guess I should just shut up about that point and move along.

Favourite scene: Zaitsev is pinned down by Major Konig in a factory. Tense!

Quote: “Vodka is a luxury we have. Caviar is a luxury we have. Time is not.”

Someone says “It’s a trap!”: Yes.

Score: 3.5/5

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