Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Enemy at the Gates

Film #171


A Russian sniper and a German sniper play a game of cat-and-mouse during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Year 1, Day 170

BEFORE: Since I have a few extra hours left today, I thought I’d get ahead a little bit in the marathon in anticipation of taking a few days off for Christmas. Enemy at the Gates will have the honor of being the second film of the day.

AFTER: When it comes to war films, it’s pretty hard to beat Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. The gritty realism and gruesome images, especially in the opening D-Day scene, are some of the best images in cinema. Enemy at the Gates takes a similar approach to telling this World War II story about a Russian and German sniper but ultimately falls a little short.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great visuals in Enemy at the Gates. It has a very dull and drab look which seems to fit the look of Stalingrad and the war atmosphere at that time. And the tension that is created between the snipers just by showing reverse shots through the sniper scopes. Simple shots with minimal noise, mainly ambient sounds, that hone in on Vassili Zaitsev’s (Jude Law) and Major König’s (Ed Harris) subtle expressions as they concentrate on the task at hand: killing each other. The movie never feels like it’s too slow or dragging on despite the fact that there isn’t that much going on story wise.

While it’s never slow, there are some extraneous scenes and characters that, when compared to the rest of the film, are unnecessary and mere afterthoughts. Especially Sacha, the young boy who acts as a double agent, who seemed completely tacked on. I know he’s part of the real history but in the film his role seemed forced rather than natural and his sudden shift in allegiances just added to a feeling of falseness about him. Speaking of falseness and the characters, let’s talk about their nationalities. With the exception of Major König and background extras, all the characters in the film were Russian, or they’re supposed to be anyway. But all the actors (Law, Fiennes, and Weisz) are all from the United Kingdom, and it’s quite obvious too. They all spoke with English accents and made no attempt to imitate a real Soviet. Ron Perlman, who plays the sniper Koulikov, actually does a decent job but he’s only on screen for a short amount of time and doesn’t make up for the rest of the cast.

Enemy at the Gates provides a good deal of entertainment and suspense in addition to education about events that took place during the Battle of Stalingrad. The visuals and pacing are fitting for a war film but the story and acting holds the film from matching levels of success seen in another war film like Saving Private Ryan. History buffs should enjoy Enemy at the Gates as should anyone else looking for lots of action.

RATING: 4 out of 5