Enemy at the Gates

By Mark Ramsey | 2001/03/18

The publishing world is all atitter about the new book written by Britney Spears called “Oops, I Picked Up a Pen.” When asked if this book would be a biography, Britney reportedly snapped “Who is this ‘ography’ that all these books are by, anyway?”

Oops, I saw Enemy at the Gates – and I liked it. At least here’s a movie with scope, for God’s sake. How many cheapo teenage gross-out comedies with sit-com-style production values do we really need anyway? Must I pay $10 to see the 7-Up guy in a movie, let along five movies?!


Enemy at the Gates is set during the battle for Stalingrad, something which you can all easily relate to, right? This was one of the defining moments of World War II – so what if it’s a definition we need to look up.

The Ruskies were fighting the Nazis and Stalingrad was at the “Russian front,” that strip of geography made famous as the likely next destination for Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes if he couldn’t keep the prisoners inside the camp and the St. Pauli Girl outside.

Even during WWII the Soviet Union was a nation where everyone’s middle name is either “Alexeyev” or “Ivanovich.” What are the odds?

Yes, scope this movie’s got. But make no mistake: This is Her Majesty’s USSR. Virtually every Russian in this movie is English. Jude Law is “Vasily, a young shepherd from the Urals,” where the Urals evidently are midway between Brighton and Liverpool. Even the Soviet kids are English, making this movie feel at times strangely Oliver Twistsky or David Copperfieldanov.

War heroes have come a long way from John Wayne to Jude Law, who looks like he couldn’t fight his way out of Men’s Shoes at Nordstrom.


Jude is a sharpshooter built up by propaganda into a great Russian hero. That makes him a marked man with the Germans, who send in a sharpshooter of their own, Nazi Major Ed Harris, a nobleman from Bavaria, which, judging by his accent, is a town between Cleveland and Des Moines. Ed is cool as a German cucumber and, like all actors playing Nazi officers, can trace his roots to Major Strasser in Rick’s Café Americain. Round up the usual suspects!

And so begins the game of sniper-happy cat and mouse in one burned out factory after another. Stalingrad, you see, is a shambles. Virtually the only thing left standing, strangely enough, is a statue of Stalin himself – or maybe it’s Rick Dees, who can tell?

Joe Fiennes, who played such a deeply intense Shakespeare in Love now plays a deeply intense Soviet political officer who prints flyers all day as if the war were one big garage sale. Deep intensity, thy name is Joe Fiennes.

Rachel Weisz, late of The Mummy, is the love interest – and that’s about all the interest she has. There’s one scene of nasty, dirty lovemaking between Jude and Rachel. Judging by Rachel’s expression, it was either really good or she was lying on nails – either way, the pain looks exquisite. And either way, it’s still getting nailed. That’s what I call “laying down the Law.”

Enemy at the Gates is a good movie, even if it’s 30 minutes and several lovemaking positions too long. We can thank director Jean-Jacques Annaud for the characteristically French pacing. Pack a thermos of café-au-lait and bring your baguettes, kids – there’s lots of sniper-baiting and sniper-waiting.

In Enemy at the Gates, everyone could use a good hand soap. You see, good hygiene goes hand-in-hand with Chernobility.

Photos Copyright ©2001 Paramount Pictures


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