JT Film Review

71 – Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Enemy at the Gates REVIEW

4/5 stars

Director – Jean-Jacques Annaud

Cast – Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rache Weisz, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, Ron Perlman, Gabriel Thomson


Enemy at the Gates follows famous Russian sniper Vasily Zaytsev, played by Jude Law. It focuses on a prolonged duel with German sniper Koenig (Ed Harris), but also touches on his dealings with a political officer Danilov (played by Joseph Fiennes) and a love interest, Tania (played by Rachel Weisz).

There have been many war movies made throughout the years, and they tend to fit in one of a couple of categories. On the one hand, you have movies about war. Examples would be A Bridge Too Far and Tora, Tora, Tora. These films tend to focus on the larger war effort, and generally have ensemble casts. The other type uses war as a backdrop, while we focus on a handful of characters in the foreground; examples of this would be Pearl Harbor and Saving Private Ryan. Enemy at the Gates is of the latter, yet still branches out enough to show that the main character isn’t all there is to the story. The main criticism of the movie is that the love-triangle story between Zaytsev, Danilov, Tania feels tacked on. Personally I feel that would be a problem if the movie was of the former group that I mentioned, but as the point of this movie is to focus on a couple of people, it worked.

We are shown both sides of the conflict (at least where Vasilky’s duel is concerned), which is interesting and builds up the tension even more. But the best thing about the movie is an attention to detail that should make most other movies blush. Annaud ignores the traditional use of “setup shots”. Often we see a main character (or whoever is the focus of a scene) moving around (before the close up) in the “long shots”, shots used usually to set up a scenes environment before the lead triumphantly makes his way on-screen. It is a seemingly insignificant detail, but it really adds up to create a feeling of a bigger world.

The heart of the movie, however, is the tension involved in a snipers job. Ed Harris and Jude Law have a great ability to say much with little facial expression. Their eyes just burn through their sniper scopes, making the whole war seem to revolve around their battle, ignoring their political ideologies.  Jude Law’s Zaytsev is Communist, but he seems to not know or care what regime he lives under. He’s an average Joe who was drafted into the army, and he just wants to survive the war. Ed Harris’ Koenig is also not interested in political ideology, but just wants to do the job he was brought on to do. He is a professional, and Zaytsev must bring his all to beat him. You want to see tense, you have it here.


While there are a couple of predictable moments, Enemy at the Gates more than delivers. Its combination of sincerity, an insane level of detail, and great acting makes this a firmly enjoyable movie. And… am I the only one who thinks Jude Law is very under-rated?



“Enemy at the Gates” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia



January 14, 2010 - Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - War, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , ,

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