Movie Review: “Enemy at the Gates”

Action, friendship, romance- this film has it all!  This war/suspense drama (unfortunately) didn’t do well at the box office in 2001.  When you see it you’ll wonder:  Why the heck not!?  It has an all-star international cast, great cinematography, and a very compelling story (based on true events).  The setting is Stalingrad in Fall/Winter 1942.  Stalin and Hitler are no longer buddies.  The German army has been mounting a large scale attack on Stalingrad, but the Red Army will not give up so easily! 

The film opens with the arrival of a group of rag-tag soldiers from all over Russia, including wide-eyed Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) to the big city.  We learn later that he is a shepherd from the Ural Mountains.  The soldiers traveling with Vassili are not all men- a young woman reading a book is in the same car as him.  He is struck by her beauty.

The action of this film comes at you from the start- huge crowds, gunshots, explosions, etc.   Many men fall around the newcomer, but when Vassili gets his hands on a rifle, he takes down 5 German officers!  Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), a political officer, is amazed by the young soldier’s skill.  They become fast friends.

The educated, idealistic Danilov makes Vassili into a larger-than-life war hero; he writes about his deeds in the army newspaper.  Soon, the quiet, simple man is promoted to the sniper division, meeting politicians like Krushchev (Bob Hoskins), and a legend in his own time.  

Danilov: “Here, the men’s only choice is between German bullets and ours. But there’s another way. The way of courage. The way of love of the Motherland. We must publish the army newspaper again. We must tell magnificent stories, stories that extol sacrifice, bravery. We must make them believe in the victory. We must give them hope, pride, a desire to fight. Yes… we need to make examples. But examples to follow. What we need… are heroes.”

Khrushchev: “Do you know any heroes around here?”

Danilov: “Yes, comrade. I know one.”


People write him letters, greet him warmly in the streets, and a local shoeshine boy, Sacha, invites Vassili home for dinner.  There he meets the boy’s mother and their close friend/neighbor, Tania (Rachel Weisz), the woman who captivated him on the train.  She was at university in Moscow recently; she volunteered to be part of the militia.  Danilov can’t keep his eyes off her.  But Tania is interested in Vassili; a love triangle is formed!


Vassili becomes so famous that the Germans send for their best sniper, the cool, aristocratic Major Konig (Ed Harris) to kill him.  This is the heart of Enemy at the Gates– a duel between two men (both with intense blue eyes) who are the best in their field.  The large-scale war is brought down to these two snipers- to the human level.  Vassili tells the adoring Sacha that you have to face a man to kill him, and that stays with you.

A battle between two nations became a conflict between two men.

Vassili: He [Konig] shot him [another expert sniper] on the run. It was an impossible shot.”

Danilov: “Vassili… ”

Vassili: “You’ve promised people a victory I can’t deliver. I don’t stand a chance against this man.” 

Will Vassili conquer his doubts and defeat Konig?  Which man will get the girl?  Find out for yourself!

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