In Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Enemy at the Gates, the war between two states is reduced to a conflict between three men.

The story starts with the friendship of Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), a Soviet political officer, and Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), a Russian sharp-shooter.

Danilov survives an encounter with Nazi troupes and witnesses his friend, Vassili shoot down with a marksman’s facility several Nazis in Stalingrad, the last unconquered city of Russia. The fall of the city would have given the Germans access to the oil fields of the Caucasus.

Through a military newspaper, Danilov highlights Vassili’s accomplishments, which instantly creates a hero out of his friend, an inspiration to Russian soldiers.

But when a female soldier, Tania (Rachel Weisz) comes their way, conflict ensues. Danilov likes Tania, but she falls for Vassili.

Alarmed by Vassili’s popularity and the number of Nazi soldiers he has killed, the Nazis send Major Konig (Ed Harris) to Stalingrad to stop Vassili. Determined, Major Konig commissions Sacha (Gabriel Marshall-Thomson), Tania’s young friend, to spy on the well-known hero.

Enemy at the Gates captures the foul drama of the war. It shows the agony of ordinary people trying to escape the war. It shows people under-trained for the war dying in the frontlines.

But the film is hardly a documentary. It is a tale of three persons as they cope with the ramifications, political and personal, of war.

Jude Law portrays the role of Vassili with ease. He is consistent in presenting the character of Vassili as a hero by publicity but a simple person who does his job very diligently.

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On the other hand, Fiennes shifts from a friend to an enemy with effortlessness. Known for his portrayal of William Shakespeare in Shakespeare In Love, Fiennes effectively shows his envy and hate when Vassili steals the love of his life.

Annaud presented masterfully the catastrophe of the war during the first hour of the movie. When civilians called to the service cross the Volga River to get to Stalingrad, the German air forces attack the crossing. The drama of untrained men massacred by the air forces, some of them shot by the Soviet commanders for attempting to flee out of cowardice, is very touching. Edumar d.V. Madlangbayan

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