ENEMY AT THE GATES
Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Joseph Fiennes, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins, Ed Harris, Ron
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 131 Minutes
Release Date: May 19, 2009
"Youíre an extraordinary soldier."
"No, Iím what youíve made me. Nothing more."
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.
From the opening battle sequence on, this disc shows well what Blu-ray is capable of. There are large scale scenes that deliver on the intricacy and detail you'd expect in high definition, with solid coloring and image integrity throughout. The textures and tones appear natural in all kinds of light settings, with just a tad of noticeable and probably unavoidable grain here and there in the darkest settings. Overall, though, a truly praiseworthy effort.
You could argue there are two types of movies for which sound is most important: horror and war. With this amazingly explosive, dynamic and enveloping TrueHD mix, Enemy at the Gates joins the likes of The Thin Red Line or Saving Private Ryan as one of the most engrossing and stellar war film mixes I've had the pleasure of experiencing on my system. Spoken words are generally clean and clear, except of course when they're supposed to be a tad muffled in battle, but the overall use of the back stage and .1 channel means you'll be experiencing the power of war first hand while you sit safely in your home theatre.
The extras include two behind the scenes documentaries, "Through the Crosshairs" and "Inside Enemy at the Gates", plus a compilation of deleted scenes, and a trailer, remastered for HD.
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 Blu-ray experience that shouldnít be missed.