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Enemy at the gates

Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

A single bullet can change history.

It's 1942 - Hitler has successfully conquered Europe with the exception of a weakened Britain, while the USA debates whether to become involved. Rather than consolidate his troops in what would've been a likely successful spearhead attack on the UK, the Führer makes the critical error of splitting his Army and sending a large portion of it in an attempted invasion of Russia, a country which up till that point hadn't become involved in the war due to a non-aggression pact it had signed with the Nazis.

With that treaty now broken and Stalin's scorched earth policy in full swing - just like Napoleon a century before him, Hitler tasted bitter defeat and was forced to retreat from the icy Soviet wastelands. A few key battles marked a reversal of fortune for the Nazis, the most infamous and decisive being the siege of Stalingrad. It was in the last few weeks of 1942 in the famous city that the German 6th Army was quickly surrounded by Stalin's counterattack forces who captured and/or slaughtered the 350,000-strong troops in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, one some say made the D-DAY invasion seem tame in comparison.

Amongst those fighting on Stalin's side is Russian sniper Vassily Zaitsev (Jude Law), a man single-handedly responsible for shooting 40 German soldiers in the space of ten days using only 1-2 bullets with each kill. Expert Nazi SS assassin Major König (Ed Harris) heads to Stalingrad on a mission to hunt down Russia's top snipers - especially Vassily, who is competing with political officer Commissar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) for the love of Tania Chernova (Rachel Weisz) in the ruins of Stalingrad. Soon Zaitsev and König are locked in a game of deadly cat and mouse, each intent on putting a bullet in the other person's head. Who will win? That is a question for the history books.

Based on a true story.

Theatrical propaganda posters

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Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film true World War II drama thriller assassin sniper German Russian Nazi Stalingrad

Persons of interest

  • Jude Law .... Vassili Zaitsev
  • Ed Harris .... Major König
  • Rachel Weisz .... Tania Chernova
  • Joseph Fiennes .... Commisar Danilov
  • Bob Hoskins .... Nikita Khrushchev
  • Ron Perlman .... Koulikov
  • Eva Mattes .... Mother Filipov
  • Gabriel Thomson .... Sacha Filipov
  • Matthias Habich .... General Paulus
  • Sophie Rois .... Ludmilla
  • Ivan Shvedoff .... Volodya
  • Mario Bandi .... Anton
  • Alexander Schwan .... Young Vassili
  • Alain Godard .... Screenwriter
  • Jean-Jacques Annaud .... Screenwriter
  • Jean-Jacques Annaud .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Pearl Harbour without the hoopla.

Pearl Harbour plays at being a war drama but is actually a romance that uses war for special effects and drama. Enemy at the gates aims higher by trying to bridge the gap between intense war action and political re-education. It's not as over the top as the former in terms of glamourous and glorious CGI but it does get a hell of a lot closer to the blood, mud and terror of life in the infantry. I was often reminded of that all-time classic All quiet on the Western Front.

The first big problem with Enemy at the gates is the type face used for the titles and annoying popups with times, dates and places (they are in American format, which is another black mark). Not only is it incredibly ugly, it is almost completely illegible; it thereby breaks the second and first rules of designing fonts.

The second big problem with Enemy at the gates is the accents. Everyone seems to be using their birth accent except Jude who has gone for working class English. Perhaps Jean-Jacques reasoned that since he wasn't filming in Russian and German it wouldn't matter what they sounded like but he has ended up with a mish-mash of accents that distract from what is being said. That breaks the first, second and third rules of accent use: they must be comprehensible, they must be consistent and they must be appropriate. A Russian peasant lad should not sound like an English private schoolboy.

The third big problem with Enemy at the gates is the predictability. You don't expect anything original from a Hollywood blockbuster but a mainly European film should have depth, darkness and pain. Unfortunately you get almost the same story as Pearl Harbour: Two men love the same woman during wartime, only to be separated by the misfortunes of war, then reunited by the outrageous coincidences of movie romance.

*Sigh*

All that said, I also inform you that, much more than Pearl Harbour, Enemy at the gates has the ability to reach down inside you and stimulate your soggy tissues gland, as long as you aren't too cynical about it all and you're not too traumatised by the graphic nature of war violence.

The reason that Pearl Harbour gets a higher score than Enemy at the gates is that it is crafted for entertainment value rather than intellect. The first rule of filmmaking is to entertain.

Media intelligence (DVD)

  • Audio: DTS 5.1
  • Additional scenes
  • Cast and crew biographies
  • Trailer: Theatrical
  • Featurettes:
    • Inside "Enemy of the gates"
    • Through the cross hairs

Security censorship classification

MA 15+ (High level violence, medium level sex scene)

Surveillance time

128 minutes (2:08 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

DVD retail: 23 January 2002

Cinema surveillance images

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