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Enemy at the Gates
2001 - R - 121 Mins.
Director: Jean-Jacques Annad
Producer: John D. Schofield, Jean-Jacques Annaud
Starring: Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins
Review by: John Ulmer
   
"Enemy at the Gates" seems as if it can't make up its mind as to whether it is a brutal war epic or an affectionate character study. Both of these can work together and form a terrific movie, or they can seperate and become their own. This one's in-between. It held my interest in certain areas, but yet also left me a bit disgruntled by the way it manipulates its audience. And there's a silly love story thrown in for good measure. That does it.

Jude Law plays Vassili, a Russian sniper during World War II whose name may have been inspired by Vasoline gel as a funny in-joke. Vassili used to be a shepherd and learned how to aim a gun when he had to pick of wolves from a distance. There's a terrific opening sequence that reminded me of D-Day assault in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan." But this battle goes on for too long and doesn't move like it should.

After the mini-assault in the beginning of the film, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) is introduced as the political officer assigned to Vassili's unit. They take a liking to each other, but they both also take a liking to Vassili's neighbor, Tanya (Rachel Weisz). Tension builds between the two men as Ed Harris comes into this mess, playing Konig, a Bavarian man who is assigned to assassinate Vassili. He makes a remark that he will not find Vassili. He will let Vassili find him.

Here starts a quite amazing story that could have been tremendous given a better touch and a better editing job. The movie isn't too long by the standards of most war films, but it certainly seems longer than most war films, and when you start to wonder why the faults of the movie start to hit you like a bag of bricks.

There's an interesting and disturbing scene at one point when Russian soldiers are inside a demolished building. There's a big gaping crater at along the interior of the house, and the crater created a large hole in the wall overlooking the surroundings outside. Vassili does a leap of faith and makes it across unscathed. But the man who jumps next has his head blown apart mid-way across the crater. We then see Konig outside in a ditch, his sniper rifle smoking.

Scenes like this make the movie rise out of mediocrity for a moment or two before it slips, like the dead man who tried to leap across the hole, into a crater. Perhaps this is the main fault of "Enemy at the Gates"--it tries too hard. Or perhaps too little. I liked the idea of a cat-and-mouse game set in World War II. But it isn't put to good use. The scenes that should come off terrifying, potent and paranoid come off simply as boring. There's a scene in the movie when Vassili is trapped behind an object with Konig right outside, his sights set on the boundaries of this object. Vassili makes a run for it, he's dead. He stays around long enough, and he's dead. But the paranoia of the scene never builds. My mind started to wander. That should never happen in a film like this.

Jean-Jacques Annad ("Seven Years in Tibet") knows how to evoke surroundings, but his characters are wholly unbelievable on the whole, and every time he is given good potential for a tense scene he seems to nod in the director's chair. The love story is reeking of the typical Hollywood treatment. Whereas a film such as "Braveheart" uses its tender love story to a definite advantage in regards to the story, the love story in "Enemy at the Gates" does little but tarnish the film's remaining image. And that's too bad.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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