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ENEMY AT THE GATES, 2001
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ENEMY AT THE GATESENEMY AT THE GATES, 2001
Movie Reviews

Directed by: Jean-Jacques Annaud

Starring: Jude Law, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Joseph Fiennes, Bob Hoskins, and Ron Perlman
Review by JR Kuzma


SYNOPSIS:

A young Soviet sniper holds off the Nazi war machine during the Battle of Stalingrad.

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REVIEW:

During 1942, the Nazi forces had swept through much of the Soviet Union, with Hitler hoping to celebrate the new year in Moscow. Farther to the south, another goal for Hitler was to capture the industrial city of Stalingrad. It is here where the Soviet made their stand behind their sharp shooting snipers. It is also here that we are first introduced to Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), a peasant from the Ural who was taught how to shoot from his grandfather. It starts out with Zaitsev and several other of the new recruits traveling across the Volga River to the front, which their boats take heavy fire from the German planes.

Upon reaching the other side, half the men are handed guns while the other half are given just a five round clip; Zaitsev is one that is given the clip. As the soviets charge, they are quickly shot down by the heavy Nazi defense. However, when they try to retreat they are shot down by their own machine guns.

It is soon after this massacre that a car is races through the streets, under heavy artillery fire. It turns out to be Commisar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), a news writer and lieutenant, who is able to flee from the car after it gets over turned and hide in a pile of corpses. It is here that we find Zaitsev, also hiding. The two hide here until they hear five Nazi soldiers approaching in distance. After a small exchange, Danilov hands Zaitsev a rifle, and watches in amazement as Zaitsev kills five men in five shots.

The two are able to make it back to camp, where only a bit later Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins) arrives at Stalingrad to help set up the city’s defenses. After a short meeting with the general, resulting in one suicide, Khrushchev demands ideas to improve the morale of the troops. Danilov makes the suggestion that the troops and people need heroes to idolize, in which Danilov states he knows just the man. Soon, Zaitsev becomes a nation figure and soon becomes part of the sniper division. Here Zaitsev and his mates dish out huge loses to the German.

It is shortly after this that we are introduced to Tania (Rachel Weisz), a young woman who has caught the eye of both Zaitsev and Danilov, and since Danilov had more pull he was able to take Tania away from the battlefield and put her in the intelligence office, due to her fluency in German. It is also around this time, that the German have decided to counter attack the Soviet Snipers by bring in their most expert sniper Major Erwin Konig (Ed Harris).

The day after Konig’s arrival, Zaitsev and two other snipers are drawn to an old department store where reports of a German sniper had been picking off several Soviets. Upon their arrival, Zaitsev and one of the others enter the store, leaving the other sniper to outside in case of an escape attempt, this sniper is quickly killed. While Zaitsev and the other sniper are in the department store, a pack of German planes fly over the city bombing the ruined city. This forces the other sniper to run for her fly in terror only to be quickly gun downed by Konig.

Zaitsev is able to escape and soon after the Soviet discover that Konig was sent to Stalingrad specifically to kill Zaitsev. In order to combat this, the Soviet send a former student, named Koulikov (Ron Perlman), of Konig to the front in order to help Zaitsev hunt Konig down instead and the chess match is on.

Zaitsev and Koulikov go on the hunt, along with another sniper in an old blown up warehouse. They try to bait Konig by, shooting telephone wires across the line and also the repairmen. It is during one of their position changes that the third sniper gets left behind and he is captured by the Nazis and is interrogated by Konig. He is forced to were a German uniform and bring the telephone line across the trench. He is quickly shot by Koulikov, to set up their trap, in which they have a Soviet helmet raise up over a wall in order for Konig to shoot it and give away his position. Konig does not fall for it, and aims at an opening in the side of the building. This opening just happens to be where Zaitsev and Koulikov have decided to cross in order to change position. As they are in mid jump, Koulikov is shot in the head by Konig, shaking Zeitsev to his core, and giving him a feeling of doubt.

Zeitsev decides to hang low for a little bit, taking shelter with resistance fighters and people who did not leave the bomb-riddled city. It is about this time that Tania is ordered to the now depleted sniper division, where her and Zaitsev end up falling in love. Danilov also recruits a young boy as a double agent in order to give the false information on Zaitsev’s where-abouts. Because of the child’s work, Zaitsev is able to injury Konig in a tractor factory. Konig thinking, of it as just bad luck, the next time, Konig is informed that Zaitsev had been spotted at a chemical factory. Zaitsev had gotten there in hopes to catch Konig trying to get into position, ended up waiting for several hours. This time however, Konig spotted Zaitsev’s scope and right when he was about to fire, a German looter got in his way took Zaitsev’s sniper log off his, pretend body. This made the German believe that Zaitsev was dead, Konig however doesn’t believe this to be true and once again has a talk with the young boy. It is at this time that Konig discovers that the child had been helping Zaitsev out along.

During one of their shifts, Zaitsev and Tania happen across the boy’s hanging body. This has set Zaitsev over the edge, so forcing Tania to leave along with the boy’s mother, Zaitsev and Danilov go hunting for Konig. There was tension in these scene due to the fact that both men were attracted to Tania who had chosen Zaitsev. Danilov took this information very hard and as the two men are waiting for Konig to make his move, Danilov makes his peace with Zaitsev, stands up and is immediately shot through the head. Konig, thinking that he had finally shot Zaitsev, reveals his position and goes to claim his prize. As he is walking though, he stops, he realizes that the man he had shot was not Zaitsev and that Zaitsev was in fact beside him. So Konig removes his hat and faces his executioner. Zaitsev puts a bullet through his eye.

It is revealed that within two months the battle was finally over, and we see Zaitsev walking through a field hospital in search for Tania, who was injured during an evacuation of the city.

There were several things to like about this movie, especially if you like modern war films. One example being the “Saving Private Ryan” battle scenes. They were very gory but necessary to engross the audience in the action. The camera work is also very well done and the acting is quite good as well.

This film was also widely criticized for the depiction of the Red Army as undisciplined and that the officers did not care if they lived. Another criticism about the film’s actual story falls on the “love story” between Tania and Zaitsev, I think one that is a little over rated because of the fact that they did actually have an affair, but it was laid on a little thick too.

Overall, I find this to be an acceptable movie, its major flaw is that it came out after Saving Private Ryan, which it often gets, unfairly compared too. Regardless, it is a very good movie and definitely worth the watch. Enjoy.

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