Enemy at the Gates

Many German critics shat all over this $80 million epic when it opened at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. The chief complaint about this lavish depiction of the German invasion of Russia during the pivotal World War II battle of Stalingrad (1942 to 1943) is that the movie had gone Hollywood. Financed with German money, Enemy nonetheless stars American Ed Harris as Major Konig, the Nazi sharpshooter, and British Jude Law as Vassili Zaitsev, the real-life Russian sniper who tries to bring Konig down. Worse, the core of the movie involves Vassili's romantic rivalry with his political-officer friend Danilov (British Joseph Fiennes) over the affections of Tania (Rachel Weisz, another Brit), the Jewish soldier who truly loves Vassili. Accounts vary over who really loved whom, and William Craig's nonfiction book Enemy at the Gates only inspired the script by Alain Godard and director Jean-Jacques Annaud, both French. It's not a strict adaptation, so things get made up.

Still, despite the flak about romantic cliches and miscast actors, Annaud's film boasts harrowing battle scenes as Russian relief troops are bombarded while crossing the River Volga, and Stalingrad itself is battered by air and sea while tanks and soldiers overrun its streets. In the shell of the city, Vassili and Konig face off in a duel of wits that is meant to mirror the larger battle. Any flaws in execution pale against those moments when the film brings history to vital life.

From The Archives Issue 866: April 12, 2001