Pick of the Week: Enemy at the GatesReviewed by Ivana Redwine
Tagline: "Some Men Are Born To Be Heroes."Length: 131 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic war violence and some sexuality.
Early on in Enemy at the Gates, we're shown a map of Europe with Germany colored brown overprinted with a large black swastika and the Soviet Union colored red overprinted with a large white hammer and sickle. Then the brown starts to spread over most of the map as a voice intones, "Autumn, 1942. Europe lies crushed beneath the Nazi jackboot. The German Third Reich is at the height of its power. Hitler's armies are charging through the heart of the Soviet Union towards the oil fields of Asia. One last obstacle remains: the city on the Volga where the fate of the world is being decided -- Stalingrad." From this point on, we're in for an old-fashioned World War II story with exciting action sequences, a heavy-handed musical score, and a legendary hero.
We're soon shown a harrowing combat sequence where the desperate Soviets throw everything they have into the defense of Stalingrad. But the Soviets don't even have enough rifles to issue one to each soldier, so they issue as many as they can and send all the soldiers into combat with the instructions: "The one with the rifle shoots. The one without, follows him. When the one with the rifle gets killed, the one who is following picks up the rifle and shoots." The Soviet troops are slaughtered when they charge the Germans, but when some of them try to retreat, they're shot by their own officers.
In the chaos of battle, two Soviet soldiers wind up in a large, ornate fountain in the city center. One of these is Sergeant Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), a former shepherd who is extraordinarily proficient with a rifle since he grew up in the Urals shooting wolves. The other is an idealistic political officer named Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), a gifted public relations man whose combat skills are minimal. Danilov watches as Vassili kills five Germans, and the two Russians are able to get back to the Soviet lines safely.
Meanwhile, ruthless Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is determined to hold Stalingrad at all costs, partly because of its strategic importance, but also for psychological reasons: The city has been named after him. Stalin's envoy Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins) comes to Stalingrad and warns a group of Soviet political officers, "If the Germans capture this city, the entire country will collapse." Khrushchev demands suggestions as to how to motivate Soviet troops to stand up to the Germans, and Danilov proposes, "What we need are heroes." "Do you know any heroes around here?" asks Khrushchev, to which Danilov replies, "Yes, Comrade, I know one."
With Khrushchev's support, Danilov uses newspapers and radio to make Vassili a national hero. Vassili is transferred to a sniper unit, where he rattles German nerves by gradually picking off dozens of their officers in Stalingrad. Soon Vassili has to answer boxes of fan mail, but his writing skills are so limited that his responses are dictated by the wordsmith Danilov.