Enemy at The Gate Movie Review, Summary, and Critique – Film Essay
A hero never chooses his destiny. His destiny chooses him. Enemy at the Gates is a rare World War II movie that does not involve the Americans. The title of the film is taken from the book “Enemy at the Gate: The Battle for
Stalingrad” (1973) by William Craig, which also documents the real-life war exploits of Vasilli Zaitsev. It was an entertainment, a history lesson, and a sappy love story all rolled into one. The writer and director Jean-Jacques Annaud demonstrates it is possible to make a successful, real-life film without focusing on the entire epic war.
The Battle for Stalingrad was one of the most important battles of World War II. In 1942, Hitler initiated a major offensive that was designed to destroy the Soviets’ ability to resist. The offensive opened in June, took the Russians by surprise, and began to record successes. Hitler had dual objectives and intended on simultaneous diverging attacks at Stalingrad and the Caucasus. Hitler’s general warned that their forces were not strong enough to carry both objectives at the same time.
Enemy at the Gates entails the story of a cat and mouse game involving young Russian sniper (played by Jude Law) Vassili Zaitsev, and Maj. König sent specifically to eliminate Vassili. The movie begins with a flashback of Vassili as a young boy. A dappled horse is tethered in a snowy field as bait to draw wolves. The shepherd’s son, being taught how to shoot by his grandfather, watches in horror as the wolf attacks the helpless horse.
Jude Law plays Vassily Zaitzev, a Russian shepherd who is drafted into the Soviet army and dispatched with other troops to help halt the Nazi advance at Stalingrad (now Volgagrad) during World War II. The Battle of Stalingrad was a turning point in World War II as Hitler’s long running string of military victories was halted and his armies faced their first real defeat. The Nazi advance across Europe was halted here and the German army began its slow retreat from Russia.
But the broader implications of the battle for Stalingrad are in the background in this movie as the focus quickly shifts to the struggle between the Russian draftee, Vassily, and his German opposite, Major Konig (played by Ed Harris). Konig is a professional army sniper who trains snipers for the German army. Vassily is a peasant who has been raised by his grandfather to conserve scarce ammunition by making every shot count by bringing his prey down with a single shot. But Vassily and Konig are in reality just pawns in the larger struggle between Moscow and Berlin as victory at Stalingrad is crucial to overall victory and victory for Vassily or Konig is crucial to victory in the Battle of Stalingrad.
The movie opens with Vassily stalking and shooting a wolf in the frozen Russian countryside and then quickly moves to his being drafted and put on a troop train to Stalingrad. The scene is bleak as the raw recruits leave the train and get into boats to cross the river to Stalingrad. In the water they immediately come under fire from the German artillery but face certain death from the guns of the Soviet Army if they turn back. Once inside the demoralized and besieged city, Vassily puts his shooting skills to good use. Danilov quickly sees Vassily’s potential as a morale builder and convinces his superiors to utilize Vassily as a sniper.
The cinematography and settings are used very effectively to convey the harsh and brutal conditions that residents and members of both armies had to endure as they coped with the brutal Russian winter and the all out devastation of modern urban warfare. This film will become another unforgettably spectacular war films.
A generally historically accurate film, there is one mistake – In the scene where Zaitsev meets Kruschev, the wrong national anthem is playing. The 1944 anthem is played, and the film takes place in 1942. The band should have played The Internationale, written in 1848.