Enemy at the Gates

dir Jean-Jacques Annaud
scr Alain Godard, Jean-Jacques Annaud
with Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, Ron Perlman, Gabriel Marshall-Thomson, Eva Mattes, Matthias Habich, Sophie Rois, Ivan Shvedoff, Mario Bandi
release US Mar.01; UK 16.Mar.01
Paramount 01/UK-Germany 3 out of 5 stars
REVIEW BY RICH CLINE
Taking elements from fact and mythology, Godard and Annaud (Quest for Fire, The Name of the Rose) have created an extraordinary World War II film--one that couldn't have been made 10 years ago, since the heroes are Russians! It's a bit of a Europudding--international crew and a cast with various English accents, even though their characters should be speaking Russian or German (but this way there are no subtitles and, erm, no language barrier between them). But never mind, underneath it all, there's a decent story, fine acting and astonishing production design.

With expert sharpshooting skills honed protecting his childhood farm from wolves, Vassili Zaitsev (Law) soon becomes a hero of the epic 1942 battle for Stalingrad. His mythical stature is built up by the propagandist Danilov (Fiennes), who amid the gruesome carnage of war convinces Commissar Khruschev (Hoskins) of the need for heroic morale-building news. But while Zaitsev and Danilov develop trust and friendship, a handful of things threaten to undo them: a love triangle with a gorgeous female comrade (Weisz), a teenaged double agent (Marshall Thomson) and most notably the German ace sniper (Harris) brought in to put an end to Zaitsev's exploits.

Annaud directs the film with a post-Cold War mentality (the Russians as good guys oppressed by a cruel regime that threatened to kill them if they weren't killed by the Germans first), as well as a post-Saving Private Ryan film sensibility (gruelling, kinetic, horrific battle sequences). The result looks absolutely stunning, both on the grand scale of war and in the minute character details. The plot boils down to a rather pedestrian melodrama (for example, no one dies senselessly, which is hardly likely in one of the bloodiest battles in human history), but it's elevated by compelling performances from the entire cast, all of whom do wonders with their rather underwritten roles. As usual, Law brings layers of interest seemingly out of thin air, while Harris' steely presence provides a terrific counterpoint. And it looks so good that it can't help but draw us into its environment, making us feel the overwhelming fear and misery here at the crux of the German-Russian conflict.
themes, violence, sex, language cert 15 27.Feb.01

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2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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