Taut War Film Depicting Snipers in the City of Stalingrad
Private Quentin Tarantino Fan | nowhere | 08/06/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Enemy at the Gates is for those who appreciate well made, taught, and war films. It may not be for history, but it sure is for those who want a brooding, historical fiction war film. It's also one of the few war films made about snipers, and luckily, Enemy at the Gates is a great film about snipers, especially since the film is based on one of Russia's most famous, brilliant snipers.
Based on the exploits of legendary Russian sniper Vasily Zaytsev (around 300 kills or so), Enemy at the Gates is a largely fictional reworking of the sniper, the battle of Stalingrad, and a duel mentioned in Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad between German sniper Erwin Konig (who actually existed). It also has a more personal love triangle thrown in. What's remarkable about the love triangle is that it serves as more of a complement to the wartime plot, instead of pushing the war time plot into the back and putting the love triangle in the front. A good move that didn't turn the film into a Pearl Harbor sap-fest.
Be warned that film takes quite a bit of liberties in place of history. This film isn't even supposed to be an accurate look at the exploits of Vasily, as the named of the sniper has been slightly changed even. It's portrayal of history may not as removed as 300, but it certainly isn't Band of Brothers either. With all that said, it doesn't matter that much. It's a tense, interesting, and well crafted film, and it largely makes it's own story. So it's easy to forgive so.
The character development is not that deep, but the characters here are believable and are developed well enough to understand their relationship. The performances here are all good, may not be award winning, but they are overall believable and well drawn out. What I also liked about the film is that it doesn't portray the outstanding military figure as a larger than life hero, which hampered other films such as Sergeant York (yeah I know he was supposed to be THE Sergeant York in contrast to a fictional version of Vasily, but it still is the same deal). It instead shows him as the way he was used: to bolster some hope into the Russian people. It shows the propaganda, but the movie itself is not propaganda. It's a strong point, and a good plot point that the movie has.
However, the most exciting part of the film, is obviously the sniper scenes. While I feel that they probably aren't 100 percent accurate, I feel that being a sniper gives you more room for freedom when it comes to being on the battlefield, so I guess it's not that bad. War films based on Snipers are rare to come around, there have been many war films with scenes of snipers, but never a film largely about expert snipers. Here, the battle scenes are plentiful, cat-and-mouse scenes of sniper tactics, directed with flair, tension, and tactic. Let's also not forget the depiction of Stalingrad, which was kind of short, but exciting. It does a better job depicting combat in Stalingrad than the German film Stalingrad, and most of us know of that films's bleak depiction of the Stalingrad battle.
Enemy at the Gates takes a very lush, but sometimes grimy tone, and the results are very nice. The style of the film is well played and well composed. I felt one big contribution to this was the great score. James Horner has never been known for subtlety in his music (Commando in the mall ha ha), but his rich, often stirring score here perfectly complements the film. It's sometimes overtly bombastic, but it offers quite a brooding musical stir and really boosts the film's storytelling with a verve. Sure, sometimes it sounds like a Tim Burton or a Lord of the Rings film, but it goes with the feel of the film very well.
Enemy at the Gates may not appeal to all war film fans. It would be safe to say it takes some liberties away from history, and "documentary style" is the last thing I would use to describe this film. Sometimes I feel a similar feeling between this and Lord of the Rings, so that should tell you it's definitely doesn't feel like Schindler's List at it's most stripped down parts (no music, hand-held cameras, little to no cinematic tricks). But that shouldn't detract you from seeing this war film. See it, it's an exciting and well-crafted work that doesn't fall into pitfalls."