Enemy at the Gates

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By Ethan Rogers.

By mid-September of 1942, the German army had leveled the once prosperous city of Stalingrad, and pushed Soviet defenses to banks of the Volga. If Stalingrad falls, Soviet defeat is inevitable. Enemy at the Gates commences at this crucial and desperate moment for the Red army.

A propaganda officer for the Soviets, Commander Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), stumbles upon a solution for waning morale in the person of Vassili Zaitzev (Jude Law). Zaitzev, a simple man from the Ural Mountains, possesses an uncanny amount of skill in marksmanship and is promptly transferred into the sniper unit. He quickly amasses a high body count. Through his newspaper, Commander Danilov turns Zaitzev into a hero of mythical proportions, and in doing so provides hope for the beleaguered Soviets. Zaitzev's growing fame draws the attention of the German army, and the Nazis send their most decorated sniper, Major Koenig (Ed Harris), to eliminate him. Zaitzev's war of wits and skill with Koenig parallels his silent conflict with Commander Danilov over the love of Tania Chernova (Rachel Weisz), a displaced Jewish girl from Stalingrad.

Without a doubt, the strong point of Enemy at the Gates is the astounding recreation of the destroyed city of Stalingrad and its aura of desperation. The film makes an effort for realism and historical accuracy (the story is based on the real-life exploits of Vassili Zaitzev), but it succeeds mainly in the cinematography.

Although all of the leads deliver strong performances, they do not overshadow the movie's weak plot. For the cynical moviegoer, the love triangle between Fiennes, Weisz, and Law turns into a bit cliché, culminating in an uncomfortable and out-of-place love scene. However, the ongoing duel between Law and Harris brings a refreshing air of the Western genre into this war-pic. The larger scope of the battle of Stalingrad narrows to the cat-and-mouse game between two gun-slinging snipers.

The film provides a novel approach to a rarely covered side of W.W.II. However "Hollywood" it inevitably becomes, Enemy at the Gates offers enough substance to make it worth a viewing.