Enemy At The Gates

Starting out as something of an Eastern Front Saving Private Ryan, the new Enemy At The Gates effectively adopts that film's immersion-shock approach to portraying combat. Following a bloody journey across the river to Stalingrad, a troop of frightened Russian soldiers heads into battle with only half the required weaponry. Distributing firearms to every other soldier, the commanders announce a simple plan: "The man with the rifle shoots. The man without the rifle follows. When the man with the rifle is killed..." It would be as tough for the film to maintain this ground-level intensity as it would be to tell the whole story of Stalingrad's long, violent, odds-bucking resistance of the Nazis, and director Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years In Tibet, The Lover) opts out of both approaches, choosing instead to mostly focus on a single soldier (Jude Law), a semi-literate shepherd with an uncanny talent as a sniper. Championed by an army press officer (Joseph Fiennes), Law becomes a badly needed symbol of hope for the city under siege. His ascension to folk-herodom attracts the attention of both a tough female soldier (Rachel Weisz) and a tight-lipped German sharpshooter (Ed Harris) who intends to shut him down. While Annaud's desire to tell one little story in the midst of a big one is understandable, he could have spent more time relating one to the other, or at least chosen a more interesting little story. Aside from Fiennes' helpful comment that Law's confrontation with the privileged Harris "embodies the class struggle," Enemy touches on virtually none of the larger issues of WWII, dwelling instead on an anemic love triangle and other distractions. Given dangerously underdeveloped characters and speaking in wavering Russolish accents, Law, Fiennes, and Weisz do what little they can, leaving the most memorable moments to Harris and a barely recognizable Bob Hoskins (playing Khrushchev). There's no faulting the tautly staged sniper showdowns or the film's apocalyptic vision of a city ravaged by war, but every time Enemy seems on the verge of wandering toward points more interesting than the struggles of its dull protagonists, the burdensome plot jerks it back into place. It's like a film about Gettysburg that concerns itself with whether a nice Union soldier walks away with the girl, while all that business about slavery and national identity plays out mutely in the background. Annaud may portray the battle, but the war is somewhere far away.

Filed Under: Film

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