enemy at the gates(2001)
dir: jean-jacques annaud
jude law, rachel weisz, joseph fiennes, ed harris

. War is hell, but war movies, while frequently hellish, are required to provide the audience with a bit of hope, a hint of romance or poetry or heroism; a chance, however unrealistic, for the viewer to lift their head up out of the muck and blood and bullets. David Lean never forgave the studio that forced him to insert a completely spurious love interest into Bridge Over the River Kwai, a story set almost entirely in a Japanese POW camp.

The love story at the heart of Jean-Jacques Annaudís Enemy at the Gates is, thankfully, a bit more integral to the story, but it still serves the same purpose -- to water down the unalloyed grimness and awful tension that permeates every relatively accurate war story. Jude Law, a Soviet soldier, becomes a hero during the siege of Stalingrad through his talent as a sniper, amplified by the publicity efforts of an ambitious political commissar, played by Joseph Fiennes. They both love the same girl (Rachel Weisz), but her preference for the heroic young sniper creates a miserable, melodramatic triangle amidst the rubble and carnage.

Itís hard to imagine that the story needs more tension. Law is being hunted through the ruins of the city by a German marksman, played with teutonic cool by Ed Harris, but the fact of the setting alone should have provided all the tension in the world. The first, gruesome battle scene of the film sets the tone quite well, as Law and thousands of green recruits are herded across the Volga to the burning city under a hail of bullets and bombs, given one gun for every two soldiers and sent into battle against the Germans. Retreating soldiers are cut down by their own officers, in an unholy, hopeless meatgrinder that was typical of the Eastern front.

Itís all too true to historical fact, as are scenes of Soviet troops and Russian civilians living under the rubble while the Germans advance above them. Somehow, Annaudís film ends up resembling Soviet ďsocialist realistĒ propaganda, as if that was the only model he had for imagining a film set in Stalingrad. The grand passion between Law and Weisz feels more like straight Hollywood romantic fiction, and only occasionally rings true, as in a scene where the couple struggle to make love unheard in a crowded basement barracks. Without it, this war story might, at best, be lucky to attract an audience of a few thousand pessimists, or nostalgists for the Great Patriotic War.