Monday, October 3, 2011

ENEMY AT THE GATES


(March 2001, U.S.)

From one war film right into another...it's happened before...it could happen again. However, this is one of the few war films I own where our heroes are not our beloved Americans. In a definite indication that the Cold War is long gone and the Russians are no longer to be feared, Jean-Jacques Annaud's ENEMY AT THE GATES has us rooting for the Russians in a story that describes the events surrounding the Battle of Stalingrad from 1942 to 1943. It's based on a cat-and-mouse duel developed between the legendary Soviet sniper Vasily Grigoryevich Zaitsev (played by Jude Law) and his German counterpart, Major Erwin K├Ânig (played by Ed Harris), as they stalk each other during the long battle. Zaitsev uses impressive marksmanship skills—taught to him by his grandfather from a young age to save himself and his commissar Danilov (played by Joseph Fiennes). But even as his skills progressively improve the fighting morale amongst the Russian soldiers, there is still great human fear and doubt behind his actions. Zaitsev and Danilov also both become romantically interested in Tania (played by Rachel Weisz), a citizen of Stalingrad who's become a Private in the local militia. Of course, you have to have a love triangle in a war film, right?

Perhaps the most interesting element of any one-on-one battle between two men of equal stature during a time of war is that they're placed in a situation where they have to try to use their intelligence and skills to ultimately kill each other. If you're a fan (or extremely hopeful) of traditional cliche, then you know the good guy will likely emerge victorious (and alive!) in the end. That, however, doesn't mean you won't be on the edge of your seat with viewer's tension until it all climaxes on screen. And like any other war film I've discussed in the past, this film is not without its thrilling share of battle warfare and political intruigue. The twist here is to take your mindset away from the traditional gung-ho American spirit and appreciate a time when a country that was once our Cold War enemies is forced to defend their city, their honor and their freedom.

I can't help but have a rather different view of war films that were released just before the events of 9-11, including this film and PEARL HARBOR (2001). When you consider that these films were only months before our own country would be horribly attacked by a destructive force, it makes such films just a little more thought-provoking (yes, even a film by Michael Bay!).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Nikita Khrushchev: "My name...is Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. I've come to take things in hand here. This city...is not Kursk, nor is it Kiev, nor Minsk. This city...is Stalingrad. Stalingrad! This city bears the name of the Boss. It's more than a city, it's a symbol. If the Germans...capture this city...the entire country will collapse. Now...I want our boys to raise their heads. I want them to act like they have balls! I want them to stop shitting their pants! That's your job. As political officers...I'm counting on you. You...what's your suggestion?"
Officer #1: "Shoot all the other generals who have retreated, and their chiefs of staff, too."
Officer #2: "Make some examples. Deport the families of the deserters..."
Krushchev: "Yes, that's all been done."
Danilov: "Give them hope! Here, the men's only choice is between German bullets and ours. But there's another way. The way of courage. The way of love of the Motherland. We must publish the army newspaper again. We must tell magnificent stories, stories that extol sacrifice, bravery. We must make them believe in the victory. We must give them hope, pride, a desire to fight. Yes...we need to make examples. But examples to follow. What we need...are heroes."
Krushchev: "Do you know any heroes around here?"
Danilov: "Yes, comrade. I know one."

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