Enemy At the Gates Jean-Jacques Annaud
Published Mar 01, 2001Despite rumours of "Enemy At The Gates" being a World War II movie in the vein of "Saving Private Ryan," it is essentially a Western. A Western set against the backdrop of Stalingrad during WWII, with the Nazis at the height of their power and the Russians at their most desperate, (basically, 1942), "Enemy," which is somewhat loosely based on actual events, features two top snipers (duellists, if you will), one good, one evil - good and evil of course being relative - heading towards an inevitable finale after a series of skirmishes where both are bloodied.
That is not to say that "Enemy " isn't a "war" movie - it's also a love story and a vague commentary on fascism and socialism - rivalling "Saving " in some of its more graphic battle sequences and depicting atrocities by both Nazis and Russians alike. A couple of scenes in particular where Russian officers shoot any Russian soldiers who won't march headlong into their deaths makes it unclear who the audience should be siding with.
Obviously, we are supposed to side with Vassily Zaitsev, played by pretty boy Jude Law, a Russian peasant who survives the massacring of his makeshift battalion only to be discovered by a Russian political/propaganda officer named Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), during a rather impressive display of marksmanship. In Zaitsev, Danilov sees the potential to motivate the Russians by raising Zaitsev to deity-like heights through the power of propaganda, thus giving the Russian people a hero to emulate, and convinces his superior Krushchev, played with great enthusiasm, humour and callousness by Bob Hoskins, to switch motivational tactics, since shooting deserters and deporting their families wasn't winning the war. (Duh.)
Danilov's plan is a smashing success, with Zaitsev becoming the Russian's top sniper and spiritual rallying point, to the degree that the Nazis send in their top sniper, Major Koenig, played by a rather methodical Ed Harris, believing that Zaitsev's death will break the Russian's spirit. Henceforth, the two play a cat-and-mouse game through the decimated city all the way to the film's conclusion.
The supporting cast is especially good, with Ron Perlman playing a jaded-with-socialism sniper trained by Koenig, and Rachel Weisz playing a female soldier turned love interest of Zaitsev, which also awkwardly strains the relationship between Zaitsev and Danilov. Despite the excellent looking action, effects and acting - although many of the Russians have British accents while the Germans have American accents and all speak perfect English - and the fact that you know who wins, is that despite Zatisev being the focal point of the heart of the Russian people, you never get a feeling of it. That the Russian people would falter with his death, which renders the inevitable conclusion between Zatisev and Koenig a subdued final conflict at best, despite the horrible atrocity Koenig commits to draw out Zatisev.