Enemy at the Gates
directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
(Paramount, 2001)

The title of this film should have been "Snipers at the Gate." Enemy at the Gates is the dramatization of the historical events surrounding Russia's "Hero of the Soviet Union." It is a superb film that keeps you riveted in place.

The lead in shows Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) as a young boy being taught to hunt by his grandfather. Credits roll and the action jumps to Sept. 20, 1942. Vassili has been drafted for the Red Army and is aboard a troop train to Stalingrad. The town is considered the most important in the war with the Germans. The new troops are given one rifle and six rounds for every two soldiers. They are sent to their slaughter against an overwhelming number of Germans that are well equipped and prepared. Most of the new recruits are wiped out. The few remaining retreat only to be shot by their commander for "being cowards." Vassili falls among the slain and pretends to be dead.

A Russian political officer, Commisar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) comes under fire from five German officers. Vassili shoots all the officers. Danilov becomes his best friend. Danilov explains to Kruschev that what the people need is a hero, a role model. He begins publishing the exploits of this sharpshooter. This brings the attention of the Germans, who view him as their No. 1 threat. They dispatch their best sniper, Major Konig (Ed Harris) to take him out. For Konig and Vassili, it becomes a personal challenge to prove they are best. The stakes are upped when Vassili falls in love with a woman soldier (Rachel Weisz).

This story has plenty of twists and turns as the characters deceive each other and turn traitor to other side. The actors are all superbly believable in their roles. The scenes all appear realistic. There are no superhuman feats or incredible special effects. It is composed of solid acting and wonderful dialogue.

Enemy at the Gates is one of the best war movies I have seen in years. It reveals so much about the Russian army and their use of propaganda. I highly recommend it for anybody that likes war movies, history or strong drama.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 5 July 2003

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