Enemy at The Gates

View Date: March 24th, 2001

Cast :

Jude Law Sgt. Vassili Zaitsev
Joseph Fiennes Commissar Danilov
Rachel Weisz Tania Chernova
Bob Hoskins Nikita Krushchev
Ed Harris Major Erwin Konings
Ron Perlman Nikolai Koulikov
Eva Mattes Mother Filipov
Gabriel Thomson Sasha Fillipov

Writer: Jean-Jacques Annaud  and  Alain Godard 

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud 

In the annals of history, the lingering memory that an event has on the masses stems not from itís global effect on many, but itís powerful effect on the smaller few.  Witness the wars, both past and recent.  There was an obvious effect on the power struggles which caused the conflict in the first place, but the lingering emotion comes from the tales of those most affected, the citizens and unrecognized heroes that never made the front pages.  Recent war movies like Saving Private Ryan have attempted to focus more on these stories then on the actual conflict itself, using the battle as a background for a greater tale.  Enemy at The Gates is another, reducing the war to nothing more than a stage to which a battle between two men is staged.  It succeeded more than Ryan in my eyes, because it showed that you can have great acting, cinematography and direction, without shamelessly manipulating emotions.  Enemy tells a small tale, in a very large way, overshadowing the many horrors, to focus on the conviction of men, the innocence that was corrupted, and the smaller battles which took a greater emotional toll than any war ever could.

Enemy At The Gates forsakes a typical progressive plot in place of a battle between two men, and their fight for survival by any means necessary, even if itís with each other.  It opens with a scene akin to Saving Private Ryan in intensity and violence, but made more effective by the interspersion of shots of the town, the ruins and the surrounding effects of the war, combined with its unwilling and unwitting participants.  The scene is World War I Russia, and the town of Stalingrad is about to be over run by the German armies.  Law is young sharpshooter who is brought into the limelight by writer Fiennes (again reprising his gift for words role, as he did in Shakespeare In Love) who praises his talents with every achievement, since Law has become a proficient sniper and is slowing the Germanís progression in capturing the town which they believe is a key to their victory.  They send in Harris, a veteran marksman in his own right, to take down Law, and thus the battle and games between the two begins.  The horrors of the war are presented to progress the story along, as Law meets and falls in love with a young Russian student (Weisz) and is adopted by a family who is in admiration of his work.  Their desperation, the conditions of the town, the effects on the citizens, are all shown in great and masterful detail, kudos to the cinematographer for capturing the chilling desolation and desperation amongst them.

Also helping along are the performers, whom the director has either chosen, or just chosen to enhance, the trait of their eyes.  Harrisís steely blue, Lawís deep brown, even Perlmanís piercing blueís are focused upon, showing that these are real men, put into a situation that they may not like, but must overcome to survive.  Harris is truly underrated and shows the facet of being able to play a character who may be perceived as bad, but in the context of war, good and bad is blurred due to national loyalty.  As the hero who really didnít want to be, Law shows why his scene-stealing performance in The Talented Mr Ripley was no fluke.  Turning it another notch to play scared, heroic, romantic and valiant Law cruises through this role with a tortured but effective ease.  Even Fiennes, the tortured romantic from Shakespeare in Love, gets to flex his writing muscles again as the equivalent of a publicity agent for Law.  He is given little to do, but does the best with what heís given, as do all associated with this film.

Ultimately, Enemy at The Gates is yet another side to the war story that is rarely told.  We have seen stories of soldiers, of platoons, of travails and hardships, but rarely has a film given the balance of the humanity with the violence and hell that war truly can be.  Friends were made, families were torn, and heroes were made, whether they wanted to be or not.  Enemy focuses and captures all of that in a film that should go down in history along side some of the great war movies of all time, not for its grandeur, or its performances, or even its beautiful cinematography, but for its near flawless combination of all them with an intertwined message about the real victims of war. ($$$ out of $$$$)

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