The Russians are desperate and Stalin has decreed that the city that bares his name should be defended at all costs. Whist the Germans are well equipped and dug in, the ill prepared Russian soldiers arrive by the train load to be greeted with the utter devastation of their city and the fact that there is insufficient equipment to go around.
The Russian commanders are more than happy to send their troops into a hail of bullets and inform the soldiers without weapons to pickup the rifles of their fallen comrades. The Russians have more weapons pointed at their own soldiers to prevent retreats than at the heavily armed Germans. And so it is cruelly played out. The Russians advance, the Germans mow them down, the Russians retreat, the Russian commanders shoot their retreating soldiers as cowards.
However, amongst the carnage and masses of bodies one soldier is playing dead. When he discovers a German general showering in some ruins it is an opportunity too good to miss. As a child Vassili was a hunter and crack shot. Using the same stealth and concealment he starts killing the high ranking Germans, so much so that they are running out of people to promote.
The Russians use this as propaganda for the flagging spirits of the people and it couldn't have worked better. Vassili is a national hero and a special squad of snipers are formed to intensify their efforts on the Germans. To counteract this, and to stem their own falling morale, the Germans send Major Konig, their best sniper, to eradicate Vassili. So begins a tense cat and mouse game as the two crack snipers hunt each other amongst the ruins of the city.
Similar to most recent WWII films the picture has been deliberately washed out to give it a more aged feel. Fortunately it isn't to the decrement of the overall quality of the picture. It is superb with a huge amount of detail with no signs of artifacting or outlining. Even the CGI scenes of the city and the attacking German planes blend in perfectly without revealing too much of their digital origins.
The sound is as equally impressive as the picture with good use of the surround channels, especially during the battle scenes. Even during the more hectic scenes the dialogue remains crystal clear in the centre channel and is pitched at a level that allows you to crank up the volume to savour the effects without annoying the neighbours too much.
The scored and animated menu is good enough and it certainly makes a change for the more usual static offerings from Paramount. The extras are reasonable enough with some deleted scenes and featurettes, even if they are a little repetitive. Never the less it all adds up to a decent package.
Enemy at the Gates is bound to be compared with Saving Private Ryan and it is a still close call on which is the better film. Although the carnage isn't as graphic as in Ryan, it is the shear scale of the destruction of Stalingrad and the cannon fodder mentality of the Russian generals that really shocks. It is this sort of film that really brings home the terrible suffering of Russia and her people during WWII.
The story is based on true events and fortunately it is not another film where the Americans go about altering history to make themselves the heroes. The film received mixed reviews on its initial cinema release and no-doubt the lack of GIs helped fuel this. However, it is a gripping war epic with some superb acting that truly belongs in your DVD collection.
- "Inside Enemy at the Gates" Featurette
- "Through the Crosshairs" Featurette
- Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer