Mark Reviews Movies

ENEMY AT THE GATES

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud

Cast: Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins

MPAA Rating: R (for strong graphic war violence and some sexuality)

Running Time: 2:11

Release Date: 3/16/01


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Review by Mark Dujsik

I have always had a strange fascination with snipers. Their job seems so difficult and tiring. The best have the ability to spend days with little or no sleep waiting for their target. There is also another difficulty mentioned in Enemy at the Gates: they see the faces of the men they kill. We also see the faces. We see how the shot comes out of nowhere. If they do know it’s coming, we see the fear.

Enemy at the Gates takes a time period, World War II, with which most filmgoers will be familiar, but it is set in the Communist Soviet Union. The change of location and ideology may challenge some audience members, but I found it a nice change of pace.

Vassily Zaitsev (Jude Law) is a hero in Russia. He was a sniper who was responsible for an overwhelming amount of kills. The film tells his story. Vassily begins his journey as a member of the infantry. The opening scenes here deserve comparison with Saving Private Ryan; they are intense, chaotic, and graphic. After the slaughter of his battalion at the hands of Nazis and Soviet officers, he is left alive and alone. A political officer named Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) becomes trapped in a small fountain area with him, and Vassily displays his amazing shooting skills by killing a group of German soldiers quietly and efficiently.

Danilov sees an opportunity to set Vassily as an example for the rest of the troops, whose hope is slowly deteriorating as the Nazis move through Stalingrad. Over night, Vassily becomes famous for his actions, and he is promoted to the sniper division where he quickly becomes a major threat to German victory. So the Germans send one of their best snipers Major Koenig (Ed Harris) to eliminate the young Soviet.

The best parts of this film are the war sequences, particularly the sniper hunts. After those impressive opening scenes, we are given a series of intelligent, well-crafted sniper sequences. We see the strategy developing for these two men. In their eyes, we see them anticipating their opponent’s next move and plotting out their counter. The scenes are exciting, intense, and compelling. Unfortunately, they end quite suddenly. The sequences reach a climax, and somehow the surviving participants escape without explanation. For example, the first hunt takes place in a department store. Bombers suddenly attack the area and smoke fills the building. The scene changes suddenly, and Vassily is safe and sound. How does he escape Koenig? Does Koenig give up? A single shot of either one leaving the scene would have helped, but in present form, we are left with plot holes.

I was so fascinated with these strategic cat-and-mouse hunts that almost all the rest of the movie seemed like filler. There is a love story between Vassily and another soldier named Tania (Rachel Weisz) which is unconvincing and simplistic. I would have preferred if director Jean-Jacques Annaud had fleshed out the sniper scenes. They are thoroughly intriguing and exciting. Although the love story does provide a sex scene that must be seen to be believed. It is not bad, but it is very convincing and unique.

Obviously, this is a top-notch cast. Rounding out the cast I mentioned above, Bob Hoskins also has a role as a political official. There are solid performances all-around, but I must ask why they did not bother with accents? No one I mentioned above even attempts a Russian or, in Harris’ case, German dialect. There are smaller characters in the film who have them, but the leads do not seem to have a trace of an accent. It is a little distracting, especially since the majority of the cast is British.

The score by James Horner is impressive. I was disappointed with his music for The Perfect Storm; it was distracting and overly-dramatic. For this film, Horner has composed a score which is a triumphant return to his pre-Titanic work on films like Glory, Legends of the Fall, and Braveheart. I am pleasantly impressed.

At the core of Enemy at the Gates are those sniper scenes. They are intelligently crafted and thrilling. I think the love story was a dull attempt to bring some unnecessary profundity to the film, and it could have been trimmed or excised completely. Still, as I said before, I have a strange fascination with snipers.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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