Total Film, UK
By Steve Goldman
Cert 15 TBC
Release 16 March
War Drama, USA/Germany/Ireland, 2001 Director - Jean-Jacques Annaud
Distributor - Pathe Production company - Mandalay Pictures, KC Medien, MP Film Management, Reperage Productions
Producers - Jean-Jacques Annaud, John D. Schofield
Screenplay - Alian Goddard, Jean-Jacques Annaud
Running Time - 135 mins
Vassili Zaitsev - Jude Law
Danilov - Joseph Fiennes
Tania Chernova - Rachel Weisz
Major Konig - Ed Harris
Kruschev - Bob Hoskins
Koulikov - Ron Perlman
Sacha - Gabriel Marshall-Thomson
Whats the story?
Duelling snipers Vassili Zaitsev - a Russian conscript - and his aristocratic German counterpart Major Konig play deadly cat and mouse games through the beseiged city of Stalingrad. With soviet morale low in the face of overwhelming odds, propaganda officer Danilov rallies his troops around Zaitsev's exploits. But can he sacrifice his own longings for Tania, a woman more taken with the sniper's bravery than the man who made him a hero? More crucially, can Zaitsev dispatch Konig and turn the tide of war.. before biting the bullet himself?
You'd be forgiven for thinking that "Enemy At the Gates" is yet another big budget Hollywood take on World War Two. It certainly has all the requisite ingredients. There's the Big Romance, the charismatic star (Jude Law), plenty of characters ready and willing to die for their ideals and, most importantly, there's the enormous set-pieces - from the innumberable extras storming the German frontlines to the massive luftwaffe air raids.
But the big gun theatrics fail to distract from some excellent central performances. Law proves a first rank leading man, radiating intelligence, nobility and sex appeal, even (or indeed especially) when he doesn't have a line of dialogue. As Vassili's sharp shooting nemesis, Ed Harris is equally impressive, managing to draw sympathy and humanising the faceless German war machine while also making Konig a convincingly chilling killing machine.
Fiennes meanwhile, holds his own, even if he lacks the screen time to match his character's complexity, but Rachel Weisz is little more than window dressing to attract female viewers via the film's romantic subplot. And it's this element which lets "Enemy" down slightly. The suspense-filled central narrative, which presents a war of wits and waiting as the two adversaries stalk each other in the battle-blistered city, is somewhwt diluted by Annaud and Alain Goddard's hydra headed screenplay.
Not only does it set up a love triangle to play out between Law, Weisz and Fiennes, but also attempts to wax lyrical on the role of hero-worship, Soviet hypocrisy, honour and betrayal and, of course, the nature of heroism itself. In attempting to cover as much ground, the script merely scratches the multiple surfaces, sadly undermining the impact of Annaud's vivid battle scenes.
Yet you can't dispute the fact that the Gallic helmer's latest is beautifully shot, rich in atmosphere and far more dynamic than his turgid last effort, "Seven Years In Tibet". It's great to finally see a movie which so effectively combines European sensibility with Hollywood spectacle.
Blood, bombs and bullets. Jealousy,romance and intrigue. This tense, based-on-fact drama's got'em all in an old-school war movie made in Eurovision. Director Annaud may try to cover too much ground but "Enemy At The Gates" remains a thrilling take on one of World War Two's most overlooked conflicts.