Enemy at the Gates
opens with a pivotal event of World War II--the German invasion of Stalingrad--recreated in Saving Private Ryan
-like epic scale as ill-trained Russian soldiers face German attack or punitive execution if they flee from the enemy's advance. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud captures this madness with urgent authenticity, creating a massive context for a more intimate battle waged amidst the city's ruins. Embellished from its basis in fact, the story shifts to an intense cat-and-mouse game between a Russian shepherd raised to iconic fame, and a German marksman whose skill is unmatched in its lethal precision. Vassily Zaitzev (Jude Law) has been sniping Nazis one bullet at a time, while the German Major Konig (Ed Harris) has been assigned to kill Vassily and spare Hitler from further embarrassment. There's love in this war, too, as Vassily connects with a woman soldier (Rachel Weisz), but she is also loved by Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), the Soviet officer who promotes his friend Vassily as Russia's much-needed hero. This romantic rivalry lends marginal interest to the central plot, but it's not enough to make this a classic war film. Instead it's a taut, well-made suspense thriller isolated within an epic battle, and although Annaud and cowriter Alain Godard (drawing from William Craig's book
and David L Robbins' novel The War of the Rats
) fail to connect the parallel plots with any lasting impact, the production is never less than impressive. Highly conventional but handled with intelligence and superior craftsmanship, this is warfare as strategic entertainment, without compromising warfare as a man-made hell on Earth. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
On the DVD: with a choice of Dolby 5.1 or DTS the sound is suitably spectacular (James Horner's Prokofiev-inspired score comes up well amid whizzing bullets and explosions), while the 2.35:1 anamorphic picture makes the best of the epic battle sequences. "Through the Crosshairs" is a standard 20-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, which is complemented by "Inside Enemy at the Gates", a 15-minute montage of interviews with the stars and director. There's also a 25-minute French-made documentary (with English subtitles) about the real battle that includes a short interview with the real Vassily Zaitsev. Eight brief deleted scenes can be played separately or neatly inserted into the movie by pressing Enter when the gun sight icon appears on screen. The commentary by director Jean-Jacques Annaud is as informative as might be expected from a director who always seems passionate about his film projects. Storyboards, posters, a trailer and filmographies round out an excellent disc package. --Mark Walker
Only English language is present, there is no German or Russian language track. Runtime is 125 minutes, not 131.