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ENEMY AT THE GATES

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Joseph Fiennes, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins, Ed Harris, Ron Perlman
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 131 Minutes
Release Date: August 14, 2001

"Youíre an extraordinary soldier."
"No, Iím what youíve made me. Nothing more."

Film ***

In the footsteps of the battle of Normandy in Saving Private Ryan and the Guadalcanal battle in The Thin Red Line, comes Enemy at the Gates, which may not be at the brilliant level of the other two movies, but does its story and setting absolute historic justice, in addition to telling a war story from a fresh perspective, which in this case is Russiaís perspective. Set in 1942, the film boldly captures a small chapter in World War II, the battle of Stalingrad fought between Russian soldiers and enemy German soldiers. Itís a pure illustration that the Russians fought just as hard and courageous as Americans did.

Stalingrad for the Russians was very much like Normandy for the Americans, like the opening battle scene demonstrates, as thousands of Russian soldiers are transported to the grounds of Stalingrad, an area of pure war torn hell. Once in the battlefield, every other soldier is given a rifle, and the soldier who doesnít have a one is ordered to acquire the rifle if the soldier is killed. Emerging from the chaos of this nightmare of a battle is Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), who turns out to be a pure expert with a rifle, and inevitably becomes a local hero for the Russians, thanks mostly to propaganda issued by a political officer named Danilov (Joseph Finnes), whose life Vassili saves early in the movie. The two also become best friends, and Danilov truly finds Vassili to be a true courageous hero, as he suggests the Russian leader Kruschev (Bob Hoskins).

With Vassili elevating into an expert sniper, many German soldiers are being killed off one by one, causing the Germans to send in their most decorated sniper, Major Konig (Ed Harris). Much to Vassiliís surprise, Konig proves to be a deadly threat, and he truly feels that he cannot beat him. The rest of the movie consists of Vassili and Konig engaging in a deadly game of cat and mouse in and around desecrated areas of Stalingrad as the war resides in the background.

If thereís a flaw in the film, it comes from an unwanted romantic triangle subplot involving Vassili and the beautiful Tania (Rachel Weisz), Danilovís supposed flame. An intimate love scene between Weisz and Law in a soldier camp, I feel, should have been left out of the film. Some war movies do merit romantic interests, such as Pearl Harbor, which wove together a rather unique love triangle between its characters. In the case of this film, it distracts us from what is really intriguing, which is the deadly duel between Vassili and Konig.

Enemy at the Gates boasts some dynamic work from both Joseph Finnes and Jude Law, and director Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet) displays a thoroughly convincing look for this chapter in history. The movie is an overall acceptable piece that really deserves credit for its depiction of expert marksman in the battlefield.

Video ***1/2

A near perfect transfer from Paramount, which has lately become one of the top DVD studios around. Enemy at the Gates is presented pretty impressively in an anamorphic presentation, with picture quality at a near high. The opening battle scene in Stalingrad is the discís biggest highpoint, appearing in sharp dark blues and grays. The only flaw is in several scenes which take place in darkened settings, as in one scene in destroyed, abandoned building that appears soft and grainy. Other than that, a rather top notch transfers.

Audio ****

Paramount issues what I think will go on to be one of the best sounding discs of this year. Many war movies turn up very tremendously well on DVD, and Enemy at the Gates ranks up with the sound quality of both The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan. The 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation brings the Stalingrad battle right into your living room with everything from explosions to gunfire to swarming jet planes blasting through speakers with enormous impact. This is one disc that is perfect to show off a sound system on.

Features ***

After their release for Down to Earth, I was hoping that Paramount was not returning to way they use to be with their use of extras on their newer releases. Enemy at the Gates has thankfully be given a much better treatment, including two behind the scenes documentaries, an additional scenes compilation, and a trailer.

Summary:

Enemy at the Gates is a superb entertainment in the way is shows war from a non-American perspective. It is also superb filmmaking and a thoroughly intense experience that shouldnít be missed.