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ENEMY AT THE GATES

SYNOPSIS:
During the protracted and vicious battle for Stalingrad (1942/3), a Russian sniper, Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), became a netional hero and something of a morale booster with his skill and courage a focal point for a Russia on the verge of collapse in the face of the Nazi onslaught. His fame is created by a newspaperman, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) and he falls in love with a female soldier, Tania (Rachel Weisz) – much to Danilov’s regret, who fancies Tania himself. But Vassili’s most dangerous adversary is the German Major Konig (Ed Harris), sent to destroy this sniper, whose exploits are harming the German war effort psychologically as well as physically.

You’d have to say this film is a glorious and lovable failure, full of powerful performances and brooding moments interspersed with graphic war action that is as haunting and visceral as the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan (almost). The biggest problem a fact based story like this has to overcome is its colour and mood – its sense of reality, a sense of a world it creates. Frankly, neither the Brits nor the Yanks are up to Russia during the war. You can’t expect Bob Hoskins to convince as Nikita Kruschev (especially for those of us who remember him), no matter how well he acts, if he can’t lose the cockney accent. Likewise Jude Law and Joseph Fiennes. The sound people make is an integral characteristic and historical movies rarely get away with cross-national casting. Nothing rings true. Yet the film is intense and has some compelling elements in its humanising of that extraordinary and brutal chapter in World War II. It has to be told, sure enough, and the production design, effects, stunts, music, cinematography, direction and sincerity are never in question. It just fails to connect to our guts as well and as painfully as it should.
Andrew L. Urban

There are so many wonderful things about Enemy at the Gates that it’s a shame it doesn’t ultimately dazzle. Performances, production design and James Horner’s unpredictable, heavy stringed score are all fabulous, but the script is overlong and instead of magnifying the tension, it somehow becomes rather tedious. With such a specifically Russian and German story, there is no question that it is difficult to buy the accents and this is certainly a distraction. There are two key central stories – two men – adversaries - competing as if in a chess game; two men competing for one woman’s heart plus a young boy who is a catalyst in both. The former is where the strength of the film lies and it is credit to both Jude Law and Ed Harris that the tension intensifies throughout their duel of the mind. Law confirms his screen charisma – his very handsome features and blue/green eyes are showcased in tight close-ups throughout, and he takes a firm centre stage. Everyone in the cast is excellent – Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz and Gabriel Marshall-Thomson as the young well intentioned young boy who plays a dangerously deadly game. The cat and mouse game creates heart-stopping moments, while we are constantly reminded of the tragedy and devastation that war brings. Moody and haunting, Enemy at the Gates is not a war film, but a story set on a backdrop of war. The production design is excellent and throughout the film we are right there in the line of fire. The end credits are strangely at odds, with crew members being listed at 45 degree angles in ultra modern design – and not at all in keeping with the mood of the film.
Louise Keller

Enemy At The Gates suffers from the same fundamental problem as Pearl Harbor but to a much lesser extent. The imposition of a distracting love story in the midst of a deadly cat and mouse game between two worthy opponents severely dilutes the impact of this war epic. It's refreshing for starters to see a war movie without Americans being involved. This is Germany versus a ragged Soviet army in the battle many consider to be the turning point of the war. The furious opening scenes are reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan as the hopelessly ill-equipped Russians are sent to be slaughtered by the enemy if they advance and shot for desertion by their commanders if they dare turn back. "Two men, one rifle - when the first man dies the second one takes his rifle" is the simple command as Vassili charges into the carnage and somehow survives. It's heart-thumping, visceral excitement and emotionally affecting in the same way Spielberg's Omaha beach landing was - to almost every male I know, at least - because you feel as though you're there. When Vassili's prowess as a sniper raises him to folk hero status and German sharpshooter Konig is despatched to eliminate him, expectations are high for a potent study of war and ideology embodied by the combatants. Unfortunately they never quite materialise because there's too much clutter in the way. The character of Tania is initially interesting because it gives us insight into the very real combat roles played by Soviet women in WW2 but her romance with Vassili and subsequent entanglement with Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) is ordinary and predictable at best. Other than serving conventional marketing requirements that dictate, no matter what, you've got to have a love story, it does the film no good at all. When Konig (Ed Harris, perfectly cast) and Vassili are stalking each other through the rubble of Stalingrad there's an intensity that sadly deflates once we're back in the Soviet barracks at night. More effective is the character of Sacha (Gabriel Marshall-Thompson), a boy too young to understand the games he's playing as he sells information to both Konig and Vassili and whose fate provides perhaps the film's most memorable image. When we're following the chess game played by Konig and Vassili this is tense and compelling; when it stops for "love among the ruins" interludes it's a bore. The scale is impressive, with Annaud orchestrating the hardware impressively and eliciting quality performances from a charismatic Law and ice-cool Harris. Slice half an hour off and we'd be left with a possibly very good rather than middling war movie.
Richard Kuipers

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 3

SOUNDTRACK REVIEW

See our INTERVIEW

with Jude Law

ENEMY AT THE GATES (MA)
(US)

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

PRODUCERS: Jean-Jacques Annaud, John D. Schofield

DIRECTOR: Jean-Jacques Annaud

SCRIPT: Alain Godard, Jean-Jacques Annaud

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Fraisse

EDITOR: Noëlle Boisson, Humphrey Dixon

MUSIC: James Horner

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Wolf Kroeger

RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 26, 2001







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