MPAA Rating: R
Starring: Jude Law, Ed Harris, Joseph Fiennes,
Director: Jean- Jacques Annaud
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Running Time: 131 minutes
Rating: 4.0 stars
(U-WIRE) U. of Wisconsin-The drama and bravery of
World War II make great fodder for films. Good and evil
are easily definable and the emotion behind such
stories comes with the package. That's not to say that
every World War II film is a ready-made hit-the entire
production team has to work at it.
Thankfully, Enemy at the Gates has one of the
hardest-working cast and crews in the business, as
testament to their earlier works. The result is a quality
picture with a strong story that only suffers from a
willingness to do too much.
Enemy at the Gates begins its story at the battle for
Stalingrad. As one of the defining moments of the war,
the two-year conflict was instrumental for both Nazi and
Russian troops. If captured, the Nazis would have the
upper hand in the war, using the crucial location to
advance their power.
Defending the city with soldiers and snipers, the
Russian powers were able to trap the German forces
and claim victory. Among the Russians was Vassili
Zaitsev, the sniper's sniper, who, due to Russian
newspapers and a 1942 type of celebrity reporting,
became a national hero.
Enemy at the Gates focuses on Vassili, and, when
played by immensely talented and handsome Jude
Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley), how can you not focus
on him? Vassili's reputation is inflated due to the
powerful pen of political officer and propagandist
Danilov, played but fellow attractive acting powerhouse,
Joseph Finnes (Shakespeare In Love).
Convinced that such a hero, even an exaggerated one,
will restore hope in the troops, Vassili becomes the
poster boy for Russian pride. The articles and photos
have the desired effect, and not only does Vassili
garner the attention of buxom beauty and ellow
troop-ette, Tania (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy), but the
Nazi troops as well. They send their own sharpshooter,
Konig (Ed Harris, Pollock), to take out Vassili and help
advanced the Nazi troops.
The opening battle sequence, with its dive-bombing
planes, massive shootouts, and increasing body count,
makes the viewer think twice about reaching for that
second handful of popcorn. As powerful as it is, it is
reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan's battle scenes but
falls short in the awe department.
The film sets up scene after scene of cat-and-mouse
scenarios. And although the key element in the sniper
field is to be still, these scenes have the exciting and
suspenseful elements of a chase. Both Harris's and
Law's careful demeanor and seriousness in their roles
contribute to the believability of the film.
Enemy at the Gates could have been a flop and a weak
attempt at a courageous story. The director could have
easily thrown in a few talentless pretty boys and filmed
them running around in the mud. Thankfully, the day we
see Freddie Prinze Jr. in a military uniform has yet to
Annaud's best move in this picture was his casting.
Law and Finnes are indeed of the pinup-boy caliber, yet
their past efforts prove they're not just pretty faces.
Enemy at the Gates is no different, and both actors turn
in outstanding performances. Although their
good-looking faces may be covered in dirt throughout
the film, it is their talent that becomes the enticing thing
If anything, these stars are used to a challenge, and
although Enemy at the Gates is a good picture, it is in
no way a Best Picture. The script asks little more of its
cast than to show up and give a B-plus effort. The back
story of the characters is almost nonexistent, except for
the token Sniper Jr. scene of Vassili hunting with his
In fact, little is learned about Finnes's or Harris's
character, and the romance between Vasilli and Tania
is touching at times but not much more than an
afterthought. The film introduces too many elements of
personal history and never truly explores them; it is
hard to feel a part of the film because of the lack of
connection to the characters.
Still, the tactics of the two snipers and the situations
that have them going head to head are some of the
most suspenseful scenes in the theaters these days. A
sniper's best friend is his eyes, and the director plays
on this, giving the viewer extreme close-ups and
interesting point-of-view shots. Enemy at the Gates may
leave the heart a little unsatisfied, but the mind and
eyes will love it.