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Overall Rating

Awesome: 24.03%
Worth A Look41.86%
Average: 13.18%
Pretty Bad: 16.28%
Total Crap: 4.65%

7 reviews, 87 user ratings

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Enemy at the Gates
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by Erik Childress

"Sniper Sequences Overcome Many Flaws"
4 stars

Jean-Jacques Annaud has become known for creating visually enthralling works of art on the screen. It’s no wonder that he was chosen to helm Wings of Courage, one of the first “features” created solely for the IMAX format. Film lovers will acknowledge his Quest for Fire and The Bear as his respective masterpieces. Quest dealt with the struggles of the caveman while The Bear encapsulated the struggle of an orphaned cub and its evasion of game hunters. Both films were unique in telling their stories with little to no dialogue and that Annaud staple has been carried throughout all of his work. It’s when his characters speak in where the problems lie.

That’s not to say that the acting in his latest film, Enemy at the Gates, is bad. Far from it. It’s just rather dull compared to the epic shots of war and the heart of the story which is the battle of two snipers during World War II. It’s Stalin vs. Hitler in the battle for Stalingrad. In this corner representing Russia we have Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), a young soldier trained with the rifle since the age of five. And for Germany there’s Major Konig (Ed Harris), their personal best sharpshooter.

At a time when the Nazis were marching through Europe like a Mayday parade with artillery, Stalingrad was the final prize that could ensure victory for the goosesteppers. Vassili was one of hundreds of soldiers to be shipped in to fight the good fight (without a weapon) and one of the few to survive an opening onslaught that will remind many of Spielberg’s D-Day sequence from Saving Private Ryan. Upon discovering his handy little talent, a Soviet political officer, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), starts publishing his exploits as propaganda to boost morale. It’s this newfound fame that propels the Germans to send in Konig to put the final bullet in Vassili’s coffin and the duel begins.

The sniper sequences, and I mean all of them, are done with incredible precision and tension, arguably, the best we’ve ever seen. Vassili gets occasional company stalking his prey in the form of Ron Perlman who shows up to prove that he could seamlessly step in as Jaws in the Bond series. But its when Vassili stands alone with nothing to communicate with except his rifle that this element of the story comes to life.

Each man’s tactics are clearly defined as if they were sitting across a table over a game of Stratego. The tension that is built without a single word being uttered is an incredible achievement for any director and Annaud makes the most of every opportunity. There is a situation so amazingly choreographed involving a small barrier and a series of mirrors that is so masterfully done that you’ll wish you had a remote control in the theater to rewind it and watch it again frame-by-frame.

Unfortunately, some of the characters have to speak. So in between the sniper face-offs, we have to sit through an undeveloped romantic triangle between Vassili, Danilov and a Jewish female soldier, Tania (Rachel Weisz). Their feelings are mostly held in check (while their British accents aren’t) and half the time I couldn’t figure out who Danilov was more into, Tania or Vassili in a Mr. Ripley-style. The one relationship that does hold our interest is that between Konig and a young Russian boy, Sacha (Gabriel Marshall-Thomson), who worships Vassili yet works as a double agent supplying the Major with crucial information.

Ed Harris’ performance as that Major is the strongest in the film. The quiet way he talks down to the eager boy and bribes him with chocolate reminds us of the way that children were influenced by the Fuhrer into joining their ranks. Harris has a way of communicating with just his eyes a look of extreme sympathy or cold menace, reminding us of how powerful an actor he is. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare as well as they keep getting sucked back into that unrequited/betrayed love story. Neither Fiennes, Law or Weisz register below par, but sometimes an actor is only as good as their material. Just look at Bob Hoskins who shows up as Nikita Khrushchev not banging his shoes, but to make people “mess their pants” and to pay homage to “the boss” which with all the Communism and Nazism running rampant had me singing “Born in the U.S.A.” in my head.

As WWII films go, Enemy at the Gates isn’t nearly up to the quality of a Saving Private Ryan. It’s sort of a throwback to old school war flicks with its cartoon maps and battles peppered with love affairs and on its own level it works, despite its many flaws. The love story is unfulfilling far beyond the reaches of the character’s own hearts. The full extent of the propaganda campaign is never truly felt. Vassili may be lucky on one too many occasions from playing dead to simply falling asleep as soldiers test surrounding corpses with numerous bullets. And composer James Horner recycles just about every single one of his familiar melodies and even manages to copy the strains of John Williams’ Schindler’s List theme during Weisz’s account of her family being slaughtered by the Nazis.

So, Enemy at the Gates is not a perfect movie. But the most interesting and entertaining aspect of it is as close to perfect as they come and if you come just to see the hunters stalking their prey, you won’t be disappointed. This film has more headshots than a porno casting agency, certainly more than any film in recent memory, including Pvt. Ryan, and every one of them is powerful. Annaud excels at these calm-before-the-storm moments, even able to endow the love scene with a quiet eroticism. As with the case of this film, it’s like the theaters tell us, “Silence Is Golden.” At least until the sounds of the snipers’ rifles being cocked and fired.

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originally posted: 03/16/01 04:51:07
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell has its moments & some good acting 4 stars
1/02/14 Kingneutron Always a fan of Rachel Weisz- she lightened up an otherwise grim film 4 stars
11/26/07 mb Ok, but could pass on it. 3 stars
9/29/06 I-K Tepid, overwrought and loose with the truth. Josef Vilsmaier's "Stalingrad" kills it. 2 stars
9/08/06 Thomas Semesky A different look at WW2. 4 stars
3/11/06 Dillon A personal war movie, using the war as a battleground for the fight between 2 men. 5 stars
1/08/06 gerry dunne wonderfully athmospheric and entertaining 4 stars
11/27/05 Alexey American soldiers in russian uniform. Too cheesy at times. Realistic at other. 4 stars
11/16/05 Adrian It's got soul, but it's not a soldier. Needs more direction, but its good while it lasts. 4 stars
9/29/05 Fernando Lastra good picture but no so real 4 stars
8/18/05 ES Finally a War story from a different perspective, felt very authentic to the times 5 stars
2/15/05 carlei great story... 5 stars
12/29/04 Andrea Brilliant! 5 stars
12/29/04 Monks is playas too only dog so dirty to lap up turd but too lazy to lick itself 1 stars
8/03/04 Anthony G this girl should be teabaged cuz she fucking stupid, this movie is sick 4 stars
7/26/04 You don't care This movie is one of my favorites because it's WWII and it's sniper vs sniper 5 stars
6/07/04 This girl A pointless turd of a movie that despite its occasional good elements, is still a turd. 1 stars
1/13/04 mmww See it, it is close to reality of the shit of war 5 stars
11/28/03 Kateryna Hrechko Such a Wonderful movie! 5 stars
11/14/03 snowconehead Very underrated epic scenes; unnecessary love story 4 stars
11/07/03 Capt' Fox Great war movie, realistic, great acting, worth time & $ to rent. Ignore romance crap. 5 stars
10/19/03 Julreub Polished, slick and rough all at once, not bad! 4 stars
9/28/03 Kyle I like Jude Law 4 stars
8/11/03 Nicole Completely agree about the unnecessary romance 3 stars
8/11/03 francis curiously uninvolving. unnecessary romance. 3 stars
7/04/03 Jim Leaves little doubt who the better sniper is, and it's not the one who wins. 4 stars
4/07/03 Jack Sommersby Awesome physcial scale but very little emotional depth. Contrived out the ying-yang. 2 stars
3/17/03 elizaveta good depiction of a side of ww2 that we don't often see. ignore the cheesy romance... 4 stars
2/07/03 123 good movie with out-of-placed romance 4 stars
11/10/02 Stevo Tedious and irritating. Sunset Beach-quality script. Annoying acting. 2 stars
8/12/02 GOOD its ok, but no saving private ryan 4 stars
7/01/02 Natalie Stonecipher Poignant. Bob Hoskins playing Nikita Krushchev especially outstanding. 4 stars
4/08/02 stoolie-bird boring....a waste of my time 2 stars
4/06/02 Junshi I didn't choose to watch this, but it isn't boring for sure, not jump-start exciting 4 stars
2/12/02 Yourm Ama the movie was good i enjoyed it 4 stars
2/09/02 Alex Pydd Great war movie, not the conventional tanks-planes-explosions bs, rent it! 5 stars
12/18/01 Martin grows tiresome! 3 stars
10/16/01 MaMaFaC KICKS ASS 5 stars
10/14/01 R.W. Welch Harris manages to save this flick but it's a close call. 4 stars
9/30/01 phil m. afficiando I'd have paid double to see it as a documentary, leaving out the crappola and sappiness. 3 stars
8/22/01 eruch realistic war scenes -- rest mostly crap 4 stars
8/22/01 Jim Renwick Only an OK war flick but looked good. Wait for the video. 4 stars
8/21/01 Monday Morning Romance had no place here. Fucking & fighting don't mix well in movies. 3 stars
8/20/01 Hawkeye A few story gaps, but over all a really nice film. Kept my attention right through! 4 stars
8/01/01 Al Primon Excellent. Hitchcock like suspense and opening sequence equal to that in S P Ryan. 5 stars
7/28/01 Steve Very gripping movie about a different part of WW2. Great insight into the trials of heroism 5 stars
6/26/01 Natasha Fox Depicts shocking realism and is of enormous social value 5 stars
6/15/01 zombie could have been great, but the love story fucked everything up 2 stars
6/10/01 Ramsey Could've been better! Ending needed work! 4 stars
5/30/01 Bud A tough no nonsense look at war. Severe well acted. I am glad that I saw it. 4 stars
5/07/01 Suzz good WW2 film 4 stars
5/03/01 Bueller Good movie. I liked it. But do we really need another movie that shows us "War is Hell"? 4 stars
5/02/01 SharPShooteR_12 One of the coolest movies out there.....Had some flaws, but it was wicked! 5 stars
5/01/01 Joey Great movie... one to get on DVD. 5 stars
4/26/01 y2mckay No Private Ryan, but good bullet-to-the-head action. Rachel Weisz is grimy and GORGEOUS. 4 stars
4/24/01 hairy cock lick my balls! 5 stars
4/23/01 goerge very fucking cool 5 stars
4/20/01 Jimmy Clendennen Awesome! 5 stars
4/18/01 Grey Great movie, Loved the bombing scene, Earthshaking!!! 5 stars
4/16/01 studmaster This movie should be called Enema on the Gates! 1 stars
4/13/01 Alexandre Pappamikail Awesome first 15m; it seems he wins the battle alone... over 1 million russians died!!! 4 stars
4/12/01 WWII Guy Incredibly inaccurate historically, but worth seeing. 4 stars
4/11/01 Gremlin Awesome sniper movie, loved seeing the Eastern front for once 5 stars
4/08/01 Joe W. Mendoza Thought the movie awsome as well as riviting & better than Saving Private Ryan. 5 stars
4/08/01 Gary Embrey Rather a bad film. As a historian of WW2 I was very disappointed! 2 stars
4/08/01 Andrew Deikun The action sequences are good, the middle part of the movie drags 3 stars
4/03/01 kohawk The most bizarre, disgusting sex scene I've ever seen. Too long, not plausible 3 stars
4/02/01 CBSAND Hard to know who to root for. The evil Germans or the even worse Soviets. 4 stars
4/01/01 Dmitriy Mestetskiy the best 5 stars
4/01/01 Viccy Powerful visuals (Jude Law included!) bit overlong, but worth it 5 stars
3/30/01 The Reviewer some great performances -ed harris. ending does suck though. 5 stars
3/29/01 Wolvie Snipers Rule!!!! 4 stars
3/29/01 chris dirty and all, jude law was hot!!! 4 stars
3/26/01 Mike Smith No consistency 2 stars
3/24/01 Paul Like Saving Private Ryan, starts off with a wallop! Never quite regains momentum after. 4 stars
3/23/01 JB If the whole movie was a show down in the wasteland it would be great. A horrible ending. 3 stars
3/22/01 guyguy this is gay 1 stars
3/21/01 Andrew Ratliff Not bad. 4 stars
3/20/01 Matthew Bartley Characters a bit cardboard but v.suspenseful with some amazing visuals 4 stars
3/19/01 Will Wouldn't have been that bad, if only there was no silly crap romance. Tsk, tsk. 3 stars
3/18/01 joe not really suspensful, but you still pay attention 4 stars
3/18/01 Weird Andy Lame! Check out the German flick "Stalingrad" instead. 2 stars
3/16/01 TheRock No suspense, bad acting, terrible ending = sucks 1 stars
3/13/01 TimmyP A Saving Private Ryan wannabe that falls apart 2 stars
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  16-Mar-2001 (R)


  26-Jul-2001 (M)

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