Enemy at the Gates recounts the Russian attempt to prevent
the Nazis from taking Stalingrad and thus getting a clear path to
the oil fields of the Black Sea. The film starts out with a bang (several
thousand of them actually) as we see the approach to the bomb-ravaged
city and the apparent impossibility of the Russian cause. Once the
boats land, one gun is handed out for every two soldiers, with the
odd man being told he will get the gun when his companion is killed.
Unfortunately, this is often at the hands of their own comrades, as
anyone who deserts or retreats from battle is shot. Especially affecting
is a panoramic view of the ruined city with one building tumbling
down to the ground in a corner of the shot. Unfortunately, this shot
is emblematic of what happens to the film.
After this opening battle, a young sniper from the Urals,
Vassili (Jude Law), kills five German soldiers while trapped in the
middle of a square with dozens of dead Russian soldiers and a still-living
political officer, Danilov. (Joseph Fiennes). Danilov is amazed by
this. He gets Vassili promoted to the sniper division and makes him
the focus of a morale-boosting campaign. Vassili thus becomes a national
hero and the target of Konig (Ed Harris), an ace German sniper sent
from Germany specifically to kill him.
The action of the film is completely predictable. The characters
are all two-dimensional caricatures. The “dead meat” are all killed
on cue. The “mano-a-mano” cat-and-mouse game between the two snipers
is boring. The relationships, especially between Vassili and Danilov,
are never really developed. Jude Law does what may well be the worst
acting of his career. He seemed completely passionless most of the
time, both in the pointless love affair subplot and as a sniper. If
you must see this film, wait for the video.