Enemy At The Gates (2001)
Main cast: Jude Law (Sgt Vassili Zaitsev), Joseph Fiennes (Commissar Danilov), Rachel Weisz (Tania Chernova), Bob Hoskins (Nikita Krushchev), Ed Harris (Major Erwin Konings), and Gabriel Thomson (Sasha Fillipov)
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud

As a war movie using the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad as a backdrop, Enemy At The Gates is excellent. Minus the American "We Are The Center Of The World" jingoism and minus the bombastic, unnecessary "I Want An Oscar" pyrotechnics (Saving Private Ryan, I'm looking at you), EATG gets full marks. It's compelling, tragic, and inspiring all at once.

Then someone gets this bright idea to mutate EATG, the tale of a reluctant war hero, into a soap opera best retitled All About Vassili. "Bah, you bastards!" is too mild an expletive I will use.

EATG is a autobiographical/fancy retelling (I really don't know how much is authentic in this movie) of the story of Vassili Zaitsev, a reluctant soldier who is made into a hero for the sake of boosting the morale of Russian soldiers in their stand against Hitler's Nazi troops. The war is already started to gain control of the outpost of Stalingrad, for political as much as practical purposes (the name - Stalingrad - is such that the fall of this city will be a powerful blow to the morale of Russia). Abetted by partner-in-crime Donilov, they make a perfect brain (Danilov)/brawn (Vassili) pair.

Vassili becomes so successful in his charade that Germany sends Major Konings down to personally cut down that upstart Russian sniper.

Until the midpoint of this movie, EATG is an adrenaline-charged bumpy ride through the horrific consequences of war. It also inspires: war also brings out the best in the characters - nobility, courage, sacrifice - as well as the worst. And without any "America saves the world" nonsense pervalent in many hack Hollywood war movies, EATG is also a novelty. The heroes here are Russians. Imagine that!

Then, someone decides to put in one of the most annoying female stereotypes I've ever encountered in a movie. Tania Chernova, supposedly intelligent and feitsy, becomes an object of rivalry between Vassili and Danilov. And for what? Tania has no role in this movie at all. Even her "daring attempts" to rescue Vassili ends up with her necking with that man. Her character is nonexistant. She lives for Vassili. It's all about Vassili. Vassili, Vassili, Vassili. It's pathetic.

Even Major Konings is a severely underwritten character. Hence his supposedly omnipotent evilness never come off as terrifying at all. How could he even be evil? The movie doesn't care about him. All it cares about is how Vassili and Tania will make love in a camp full of soldiers. Every potential aspect of good storytelling is sacrificed. Nobility, friendship? Screw that. Let's have two men at each other's throats as they fight over a woman instead!

And the ending scenes confirm just what I suspected. By this last scene itself, the movie proves one thing: who cares about what happens to Stalingrad? Apparently I'm more supposed to care about how Vassili is reunited with Tania. But with such lousy, underwritten characters populating this movie, really, I don't give a damn.

Rating: 70

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