After the success of Saving Private Ryan, war movies became all the rage to make. It didn’t take long for other studios to kick up their own productions and Paramount decided to go with Enemy at the Gates, a film based off two different novels. The film stars a whole crop of talent, ranging from Jude Law, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Joseph Fiennes, Bob Hoskins and even a brief appearance by Ron Perlman. Unfortunately for the film, it would fall short of grossing its budget back domestically and would make little profit when worldwide tickets sales were taken into account.
An all-star cast lights up the screen in this riveting epic hailed as “a vivid dramatization of one of history’s titanic turning points”. (Gene Shalit, TODAY) The year is 1942 and the Nazis are cutting a deadly swath through Russia. Under the leadership of Kruschev (Bob Hoskins), the citizens of Stalingrad are mounting a brave resistance, spurred by the exploits of their local hero, Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law). An expert sniper, Vassili’s deeds have become legendary – thanks to propaganda produced by Vassili’s best friend, a political officer named Danilov (Joseph Fiennes). To stop Vassili, the Germans dispatch their best sniper, Major Konig (Ed Harris), to Stalingrad. When Vassili and Danilov both fall in love with a beautiful soldier (Rachel Weisz), Danilov deserts his friend, leaving Vassili to face his German counterpart alone. As the city burns, Vassili and Konig begin a cunning game of cat and mouse, waging a private war for courage, honor and country.
I love war films and as such I’ve probably watched too many over the years. This does give me a good starting point, however, as I can tell when a film is actually truly war focused and when it is trying to occupy itself with something else at the same time. Enemy at the Gates is a film that tries to do both, as while the majority of the film focuses on the war and a battle between Vassili and Konig, there’s a subplot that revolves round Tania (Weisz) that is just a little more than distracting. I’m all for a good love story if it works, but the majority of the love here is a “forbidden” love that two men are both going after and as a result, I can’t ever really get into it. Just when they focus on that the characters either split up or some war breaks out and it seems more like a tedious side story than anything.
Love story aside, however, Enemy at the Gates really excels at war time depiction, with devastating visuals and breathtaking battles that never fail to impress. Even the trumped up idolized hero side of the story remains entertaining, as we see that not only is Vassili a hero but he is actually deserving of his accolades as he genuinely impresses with his talents throughout the film. Unfortunately the film as exciting as the battle sequences were, they were needlessly dragged down by the films side story that really went nowhere. It made for a happy ending to it all, sure, but ultimately the film would have been a much tighter and finely tuned story had it been more focused on the bigger picture.
I will say that the acting in the film was really just superb, however. As tedious as the romance story was in the film, I would never fault Weisz for making it feel as such as her acting here, as always, is fantastic. Understated at times and always on the dot, her role paired with Jude Law just made for a brilliant pairing. Joseph Fiennes also brought a lot to the screen as the jealous one who eventually sacrificed himself for his friend and even minor roles like Bob Hoskins as Nikita Khrushchev were entertaining (though I will always think of Hoskins as Super Mario…which is really not a good thing in the least).
Overall Enemy at the Gates is a decent film, but one that could have been so much more. It’s a shame that the romance angle was shoe-horned in (likely to try and set itself apart from other war time films), as if it had focused on the cat-and-mouse game that Vassili and Konig played with one another, it would have turned out to be a much stronger film. As is it’s still Recommended for at least one viewing, but that’s about all it’s worth sadly.
I once again question how this film got pegged for Blu-ray release before a myriad of others in Paramount’s catalog, but I guess Paramount has to start somewhere when releasing their back catalog of titles. The disc arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with plain grey disc art and a firmware upgrade insert. Menus are simple and easy to navigate.
The film boasts an impressive AVC encoded transfer that really is probably the films strongest point. Beautifully murky (those words don’t usually go together, I know) cinematography brings the war time appearance of this film to life and through some grain here and there the film looks simply fantastic. Whether it’s the ultra violent and gruesome visuals to the general sight of dirt exploding out of the ground and all over the screen, Enemy at the Gates certainly looks the part. It also sounds the part too, as the TrueHD 5.1 track slams the room from all angles and the James Horner score brings goosebumps to the skin with relative ease. While I’ve heard better from films, there’s no denying that the sound and visuals of this Blu-ray release helped make the film even more enjoyable. Now if we could just get rid of that pesky love story…
Extras are the same as the original DVD release, so don’t expect anything new. Included are:
• Through the Crosshairs
• Inside Enemy at the Gates
• Deleted Scenes
• Theatrical Trailer HD
Surprisingly there is no commentary on this film and the extras themselves are relatively light. But, I guess with the performance it had at the box office an extras loaded disc would be overkill (and also uninteresting to watch as there’s nothing in this film that really made me wonder how it was made).
Overall if you already own the DVD, then Skip this release. If you’ve never seen the film, however, this is probably the optimal way to experience it and in that regard this release is worth a Rental at least.
Enemy at the Gates is now available on Blu-ray.