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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 Rob Gonsalves

"Ed Harris should've been in every scene."
2 stars

In 'Enemy at the Gates,' a murky and florid war drama, Ed Harris plays a revered Nazi sniper named Major König; take the "i" out of that name and you have a 'Dr. Strangelove' character.

König has been written as a gentleman assassin, the sort of aristocratic butcher who does his job professionally, without much zeal. Damned if Ed Harris doesn't find the soft spots in this guy, though. He makes König both iconic and human, an officer without much emotional loyalty to the Third Reich. Since Harris' scenes are the only ones that stand out in any way, his laconically charismatic performance muddies the waters considerably. He has the aura and presence of a hero, a great man, yet he's not playing one (much like his star turn in 1987's Walker, still for me Harris' best and scariest work).

No, the great man in Enemy at the Gates is supposed to be Russian sharpshooter Vassili Zaitsev, whose skill with a rifle gives the dog-tired Soviet army a lift in spirits after getting their asses kicked by the Nazis. The hometown papers exalt Vassili as a hero, a label he resists; "I can't carry it any more," he eventually says, referring to the media-manufactured mantle of greatness. Jude Law, who plays Vassili with none of the wit and suavity he's shown in films ranging from Gattaca to eXistenZ to The Talented Mr. Ripley, could have been saying the same thing. Vassili's friend Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), an officer who cranks out Soviet propaganda talking up Vassili's acumen, performs roughly the same function as the movie itself, which introduces us to Vassili as a boy taking aim at a wolf.

Director Jean-Jacques Annaud, having gotten himself in over his head with 1997's Seven Years in Tibet (wherein Brad Pitt was a Nazi soldier who met the young Dalai Lama and learned to, like, chill out and be nice), tries to structure Enemy as a wartime drama far removed from all that troublesome ideology. For most of the film, you forget -- as you're probably meant to -- that this is a conflict between Stalinism and Nazism. Here it's simply two guys who are really good at what they do, waiting for chances to blow each other away. Indeed, since the Russians are all played by Brits -- including Vassili's sweetheart (Rachel Weisz) and even old Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins, acting like he needs a good strong pint) -- and the major Nazi is played by an American, the uninitiated might assume the movie is a weird amalgam of World War II and the Revolutionary War.

Annaud, like Ridley Scott before him (Gladiator), should bow in the general direction of Steven Spielberg and give thanks that Saving Private Ryan made it okay to show lots of guys getting their brainpans sprayed all over the mud and still get an R rating, as long as the carnage is in service of the Serious Theme that war is hell. There's one nice touch that suggests the ruthless economy of war, when the Russian soldiers are allotted only one rifle per every two men, and when an armed man falls, the unarmed soldier trailing him is expected to pick up the weapon. Vassili, of course, is stuck without a rifle and has trouble getting ahold of one. It feels like a synthetic movie detail: jeez, give this guy a weapon, don't you know he's the hero?

A lot else in Enemy at the Gates feels synthetic, too. Poor Rachel Weisz is in the movie to prove that Vassili is heterosexual (she needs projects like The Mummy that let her have some fun; not much fun to be had here), and there's a little Russian kid who goes back and forth between the two rival snipers; his fate brings the plot to a wholly movie-ish face-off between the furious Vassili and the weary König. I will say, though, that the scene gives Ed Harris a juicy opportunity to underplay resignation in the face of death. (If you think that's a spoiler, you really need to see more movies.) Enemy at the Gates is worth seeing just for Harris' expression when he realizes that his only equal in the war is about to rearrange the equation. The rest of it is flatulent hero-worship of a man played by a tired-looking actor who deserves funkier roles.

Twenty years ago, a young, hungry Ed Harris might've played Vassili, and his intensity would've burned small holes in our foreheads; today he gets König, and we have to settle for what he does with that.

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originally posted: 01/13/07 08:42:31
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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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