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Enemy At The Gates

A sniper in the Russian army stalks and is stalked by the Nazis' best sharpshooter in the 1942 battle of Stalingrad.


Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) becomes an unwilling hero of World War II when he rises from the bottom of the Russian ranks to a coveted sniper position with the help of Soviet political officer Danilov (Joseph Fiennes). A master at publicity, Danilov turns Vassili into a national hero by publishing Vassili's extraordinary sniping exploits, and together they boost the flagging spirits of the Russian army as it attempts to resist the Nazi invasion of Stalingrad. But Hitler wants this city, which means Vassili's got to go. Enter the celebrated Major Konig (Ed Harris), a ruthless Nazi sharpshooter sent to Stalingrad to hunt Vassili down and kill him. Oh yeah, and there's this love triangle thing between Vassili, Danilov and Tania (Rachel Weisz), a female soldier.


This reviewer would watch eye-candy Jude Law in a bad Internet short, and as grimy and bloody and war-torn as he gets in two hours, he's still mighty fine. Oh yeah, and he's good as the humble, somewhat bewildered Vassili. You can't help thinking, though, that no backwoods kid from the Urals (Russia's version of hillbilly country) is going to have the effortless grace, beauty and upper-crust Brit accent that make Law more suited for roles like the one he played in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Fiennes is fine as his backstabbing best friend. Weisz as Tania is unnecessary (and please, no more closeups of her having sex, fer chrissakes - her love scene with Law is so over-the-top it looks more like he's killing her than making love to her. It's a particularly cruel-looking Harris, though, who commands the screen in a skillful performance almost solely conveyed through his eyes and facial expressions.


Why is it Hollywood used to be able to tell a good war story without a) the nonstop carnage and b) the backside-numbing two-hour-plus run time? Director Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet) proves once again that his movies are nice to look at but lack much substance - probably why a promising epic with a good cast like this was released in March instead of Oscar season. Accents were weirdly inconsistent, settings improbable and characters virtually undeveloped. Good points: The opening scene, reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan with all the bloodshed but less f/x, is quite chilling, and Annaud gives us glimpses of creativity (the showdown between Harris and Law in the broken glass-strewn factory is one of the few inspired scenes in the movie).

Bottom line

Enemy at the Gates won't find too many friends at the box office -- fans of war movies (and of Jude Law) will appreciate it, but there isn't much for everyone else in this mid-March downer.