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Enemy at the Gates

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Enemy at the Gates

Starring: Jude Law, Ed Harris
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Rated: R
RunTime: 128 Minutes
Release Date: March 2001
Genres: Action, Drama, Romance, War

*Also starring: Ron Perlman, Gabriel Thompson, Rachel Weisz, Joseph Fiennes, Bob Hoskins, Matthias Habich, Eva Mattes

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---
3.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

In ENEMY AT THE GATES, by director Jean-Jacques Annaud (SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET), the battle for Stalingrad in the Autumn of 1942 is hell on earth for the Russian soldiers fighting the onslaught of the Nazi hordes. The Russian officers carefully provide a rearguard for their troops -- not to support them but to shoot them when they retreat.

In a time of rifle shortages, the Russian officers have a perfect solution -- skip giving a rifle to every other man. Vassily Zaitsev (Jude Law, Oscar nominee for THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY), a young, sharpshooting shepherd boy from the Urals, is one such weaponless other man. It is his job to pick up the rifle when the rifleman he is shadowing is killed. Trained since he was a young lad by his grandfather in the ways of stealth shooting -- "I am a stone. I do not move." -- Vassily becomes so famous that he single-handedly inspires the whole Russian army to turn from cynicism to optimism. His actions become the turning point for the entire world war, or so the movie would have us believe. Joseph Fiennes plays political officer Danilov, Vassily's friend, mentor, and personal PR machine, who convinces the troops of Vassily's near immortal powers.

Like the famous flying aces of World War I, Vassily is challenged by Germany's best marksman, an aristocrat named Major Koenig, played by Ed Harris in a pensive, reserved performance. Major Koenig, who lives and breathes strategy, is sent by Berlin solely to take out the Russian people's hero. An almost salivating Danilov sees it "as the essence of class struggle."

What's the missing ingredient in most war movies? Why sex, of course. Rachel Weisz shows up to play Vassily's love interest, Tania. Will they or won't they? What do you think?

The actor having the most fun is pudgy-faced Bob Hoskins, who gets to chew up the scenery as Khrushchev. Sent there by Stalin to save his town, Khrushchev turns out to be a bloodthirsty but effective leader. Khrushchev helps the Russian commander in Stalingrad "cut through the red tape" by supplying him with a gun to kill himself rather than having the report of his failure transmitted to Moscow.

In contrast to the battle sequences, which approach the intensity of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, the action behind the lines is a mixture of realism and hokum. The worst of these is the claim that the Russian fighters, rather than being exhausted at the end of a hard day of battle, came back to their bombed-out camps to sing, dance and party the night away, since they were thankful to have survived another day.

After a brilliant beginning, the movie begins to bog down like the battle itself. The director falls too much in love with his picture and includes many superfluous scenes that would have better been left on the cutting room floor. A trimmed up script would start with the entire elimination of Tania, an unneeded diversion. But, regardless of the film's flaws, it's still a fascinating piece of history and an intriguing picture.

ENEMY AT THE GATES runs too long at 2:08. It is rated R for strong graphic war violence and some sexuality and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes

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