Retro Review: Enemy at the Gates

Toted as “High Noon” meets “Saving Private Ryan”, Enemy had a lot to live up to.

One of the most catastrophic and desperate battles of World War 2 was the fall of Stalingrad. The Nazi fascist regime had marched across Russia and was trying to bring Stalin to his knees.

The Battle for Stalingrad was one of the bloodiest and most crucial battles of that campaign.

Amongst the Russian troops was a reluctant hero named Vassily Zaitsev (Jude Law). Vassily was a farm boy from the Urals and was taught how to shoot by his grandfather.

Vassily’s first encounter with the Nazis was in a desperate infantry attack in the center of Stalingrad.

Thrown into the war, Vassily learns that two men have to share one rifle as they run into the spraying fascist bullets.

One man would carry the rifle while the other would carry the ammo when one died the other would assume the position of rifleman. Vassily is shocked when he becomes ammo-guy. It looks like he may not see very much of this war.

The battle ends and the audience only sees mangled Russian bodies lining the streets. A car crashes in the center of the square and a man struggles to get out. Germans laugh as they try to pelt the survivor with bullets. The survivor’s name is Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) and he is desperately trying to get out the Russian Army Newsletter which is only the real contact within and outside the militia.

Danilov plays dead as a sentry misses him with flying bullets. It’s in that pile of dead bodies that he meets Vassily and learns the boy’s secret. Their friendship would run deep through the course of the war. Danilov and Vassily will fall in love with the same woman (Rachel Weisz), face-off against a Nazi assassin (Ed Harris), and learn about the spoils of war all before the struggle is over.

Director Jean Jacques Annaund is most famous for the writing the indie hit “The Lover” and for directing other indie classics like “Quest for Fire”, “Name of the Rose” and of course “The Lover”. Annaud has always left an impression on me as a brilliant scenery and scope man. He really knows how to bring to life the world around him in his films. He also knows how to really electrify a screen even if there is very little dialogue.

In “Enemy”, Annaud does a brilliant job of making the world of falling Stalingrad as believable and as powerful as one could imagine. I loved the attention to detail and how he was able to lure us into the world.

With this brilliant atmosphere one would believe that the movie would be beautifully scored and have heart pounding music. For this film. Composer James Horner misses the boat completely as he tries to pass off an old movie music score in a newer film. This film really needed a better score and not an old re-hash.

In 1998, James Horner teamed with George Lucas and Ron Howard to score the fantasy film, “Willow” which starred Val Kilmer and Jean Marsh.

During the course of that film, Horner used a tension score that was a series of three to five notes and were echoed throughout the film. It was original but could get annoying at times.

The annoying aspect is why it stuck with me for so long even though I still really enjoyed Willow. It’s this score that Horner uses for the showdown between Vassily and the Nazi assassin. These pivotal scenes are destroyed with that nail-scratching-chalkboard poor excuse for music. What torture!! And what a bloody waste!!

I really liked the leading performance in this film and here is a brief breakdown. Jude Law is very charismatic and very good as the young Vassily and I am sure will go along way in Hollywood as a leading man.

Fiennes once again plays second fiddle to a larger star and shines as the compassionate but sometimes shrewd Danilov.

Harris is unemotional, robotic and lethal which makes for a very good adversary for young Vassily. Finally, I didn’t care very much for the rest of the cast who for me really didn’t do much but play their roles.

I never have been much of a fan of Rachel Weisz. Weisz as a weak link is very evident in the sex scene between her character and Vassily. There was no real passion there and the scene was completely forced. I know the film was trying to draw on their desperation and struggle but instead what we got was Hollywood force feeding a new hot Hollywood couple intimacy scene.

I think some of the more interesting scenes are between the Nazi assassin and the little boy. I really loved the tension and suspense in those. Was the boy really turning on Vassily? I loved how Harris’s cold methodical style oozed all over the innocence of the boy and really made the audience panic in some aspects. These were crucial scenes.

I also thought that the Ron Perlman character should have been more interesting. Vassily needed some sort of “Ben Kenobi”-type character but that character never really flushed out that aspect.

Overall the most gripping is the very beginning of the film where we are unleashed to the torments of war. I loved the naval aspects of the opening and the panic we feel as we follow Vassily into Stalingrad. Placing aside my squabbles above, I still enjoyed “Enemy at the Gates” much the same way as I enjoyed Willow so many years ago.

(3.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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