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I first saw ‘Enemy at the Gates’ at the cinema, following its theatrical release earlier this year. I have to admit, I wasn’t hugely impressed with it considering the wealth of talent available to the director. I was however, not viewing the film under ideal circumstances. For a start, I was accompanied by a friend who did nothing but complain about how ‘boring’ it was, secondly, there were a number of annoying children who were constantly chatting behind me. Because of these setbacks, I was prepared to give ‘Enemy at the Gates’ a second chance (and a second viewing), so when the DVD dropped on my doorstep I paid all distractions to leave, and sat back for a good nights entertainment.

Vassili Zaitsev's first look at Stalingrad

‘Enemy at the Gates’ stars a number of big names, for a start we have English actor Jude Law (Gattaca, The Talented Mr Ripley) playing the Russian sniper Vassili Zaitsev. Playing the villain of the film, is the highly talented Ed Harris (The Rock,  Pollock) who truly brings alive the role of Major Konig, the highly decorated German sniper dispatched to eliminate Vassili. The romantic element of the film comes via Rachel Weisz (The Mummy, Mummy Returns), and Bob Hoskins turns in the role of Kruschev, the envoy to Stalin. Anyway, on with the film…

Based on a true story, Enemy at the Gates follows the rise to fame of sniper Vassili Zaitsev during the bloody conclusions to the battle of Stalingrad during World War 2. The story begins with Russian soldiers disembarking from a train and looking onward towards the war torn city. It is here that we realise the true horror of the conflict, with Russians shooting fellow Russians who retreat, and the fact that only 1 rifle is allocated between two soldiers. As the battle progresses Vassili meets a political officer named Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) and following a great show of sniping skill by Vassili, the now suitably impressed Danilov decides to run an article on Vassili’s heroic efforts in the local press.

As a result of Danilov’s newspaper articles, it’s not long before Vassili becomes the local hero, though being the hero brings with it dangers that nobody could have predicted. The German army dispatches its top marksman Major Konig to Stalingrad with the sole mission of eliminating Vassili, and with him…the morale of the Russian troops.

Oh look..."A date which will infamy"
Ok, firstly the good news. Enemy at the Gates is better than I originally remembered! My main concern with the film during my first viewing was that the story seemed to stop and start a lot, and generally seemed a little disjointed. I can now happily state that it would appear to have been down to the distractions in the cinema more than anything. The storyline flowed well on the whole, and kept me interested 90% of the time. Performances throughout the film were solid, especially from acting veteran Ed Harris who turns in a very convincing portrayal of the German sniper sent to hunt down Stalingrads hero. He adds a new dimension to the traditional bad guy element, which makes him a joy to watch on screen.

Enemy at the Gates received a lot of criticism from the press for its strange use of accents in the film. The film Is filled with a wide variety of ‘cockney’ London accents, Cockney/Russian accents, American accents, American/German accents, American/Russian accents…and goodness knows what else between! I can perfectly understand the use of accents in film, and I can also understand when a director doesn’t want to use authentic accents. What I cannot understand however, is having some people talk with a Russian accent, and some not. For example the Russian played by Jude Law speaks in his normal speaking voice (English), however the Russian Envoy played by Bob Hoskins blatantly tries to hide his strong London accent under a halfhearted Russian accent. Maybe this sounds a little petty to you, but you wouldn’t believe how distracting it is!

My only other major gripe in regard to the film is the love story. It’s tacky, predictable and unoriginal, and brings with it the same kind of ‘cringe factor’ that Pearl Harbor bought to cinemagoers in true Michael Bay style.

"What do you mean do ANOTHER take?!"

Overall, this film is certainly worth seeing, though it doesn’t even get near to the likes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’. The acting, on the whole is very good, the special effects are also above average and help to create a realistic interpretation of war torn Stalingrad. What lets the film down are the dodgy accents, a dodgy romance, and a thoroughly ‘sick bucket’esque  ending!

Enemy at the Gates is presented anamorphically in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is enhanced for 16:9 televisions. I noticed no obvious picture blemishes, everything looked as they should. The colours throughout the movie were sharp and crisp, and I could really see little to fault it. Paramount has really done us proud with this transfer.

You would expect the sound in a movie of this nature to be pretty intensive….and you will not be disappointed. Enemy at the Gates really stands proud in the sound department. Whether it’s the planes bombing Stalingrad, or the wealth of gunshots during the battle sequences, your sound system is bound to get an intensive workout! What you get is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, along with traditional Dolby Surround and also a French Dolby Surround track. This could well become a new demonstration disc, though perhaps not quite matching the impressive DTS track on Saving Private Ryan.

Enemy at the Gates

Well, so far Paramount has really come up with the goods for this release, though unfortunately the extras are a minor let down. First of all you get the theatrical trailer which is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Backing up the trailer are 2 short 20 minute documentaries entitled ‘Through the Crosshairs’ and ‘Inside Enemy at the Gates’. The first of these documentaries is a pretty standard ‘making of’, featuring the usual promotional durge, and the commentary by the guy with the deep voice! It’s actually not a bad look at the film, and goes into a little more depth than many ‘making of’ documentaries. The second documentary is more of a montage of interviews with the stars of the film. I normally don’t mind these as you can often get an interesting insight into the film from the actors, however this series of interviews turned into the typical ‘pat on the back’ form of interview, with each actor in turn worshipping their fellow colleagues!

Luckily, what saves this DVD are the deleted scenes. On offer are 9 deleted scenes in total, and although they don’t come with a director’s commentary, they are still well worth a watch. Most of the scenes last around the 1minute mark, though a couple last little more than 10 seconds. The one deleted scene that caught my attention was a short scene containing Bob Hoskins' character and his conversation with Stalin over the telephone. The scene shows Kruschev’s realisation that he and the rest of the soldiers of Stalingrad are really on their own in the conflict, with Stalin’s already stretched army unable to send help.

Enemy at the Gates

Overall ‘Enemy at the Gates’ is certainly a film worth watching, though If you are after a truly memorable war film then you should check out ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or ‘Platoon’ as ‘Enemy at the Gates’ certainly isn’t a classic. It’s nice to see a film convey the Russian side of the war for once, and for that Enemy at the Gates should be applauded, however the accents are off-putting and the love story and subsequent sex scene seem tacked on simply to bring in a younger audience. The DVD is certainly a reasonable try from Paramount, and the deleted scenes make the purchase worthwhile, however what the disc lacks is a director’s commentary as the short documentaries are lacking somewhat.