Vissili (Law) is a humble Russian infantryman. Just one of thousands of under equipped and poorly trained soldiers being decimated by the advancing German forces. That is until Vassili discovers a knack for sniping from afar, and his raids behind enemy lines swiftly become the stuff of folklore. Tales of his deeds penned by Danilou (Feinnes) give hope to the hopeless, much to the chagrin of the German forces.
The Germans send in Konig (Harris), himself an expert sniper, to snuff out both Vassili and the Russian people’s sense of hope.
The next ninety minutes are a cat and mouse game, requiring patience and a steady hand, and most of all a willingness to go to unimaginable lengths to secure that one clear shot. This could mean hours, even days, for a window of opportunity that lasts mere seconds.
Enemy at the Gates gets so many things right that it’s a shame when the things it gets so wrong distract you from the realism.
We’ll start with the accents. I think in one scene Bob Hoskins had a crack at a trace of a Russian accent, but that’s it. Rachel Weisz, Ralph Feines, Ed Harris and Jude Law don’t even try to mask their various (I think all English) accents through the film. That, and the fact that across a war torn rubble the two protagonists can’t help but fall across each other every time they go for a walk, means it is hard to take too much of this seriously.
In the end it’s like there are seven people in the war. One of them is Tania (Weisz), a member of the resisting forces who is basically there to give Vassili a love interest. While a natural beauty, this requires Weisz wear obvious makeup in several scenes that take place in cellars and rubble strewn ruins, places where makeup is hardly a priority. But that sums up Enemy at the Gates, a film that is worthwhile but tainted by the compromise between reality and accessibility.
You can’t have it both ways it seems. For every stark and brutal Saving Private Ryan or Hamburger Hill there are a hundred lesser films, films that tiptoed the line and stumbled.
Enemy at the Gates tells a solid story and has a cast of talented actors, it just cuts too many corners and embellishes too much else to nail it.
Final Rating – 7 / 10. The biggest war here is the war is between integrity and commercial prospects.