Enemy at the Gates

Jude Law takes aim in Enemy at the Gates

 

 

Here’s a mixed bag of European war movie that is trying to be Saving Private Ryan in its impressive opening scenes, but looks as if it realises it doesn’t have the budget and so scales back the action to concentrate on two lone snipers. One German, one Russian. It’s set during the battle of Stalingrad, in which more than two million people died – yes, two million – and so the decision makes some logistical sense, even if it shortchanges the Russians and their epic level of sacrifice. The fact that it does that is what got the goat of a lot of historians masquerading as film critics, who suggested that the film mocks the memory of the fallen. But wars are won by many individual acts of selflessness, which is where Jude Law, playing a Russian peasant, and Ed Harris, as a German aristocrat called König, come in. Both are expert marksmen, the former learnt to shoot to protect his flocks from wolves, the latter hunting deer on his estate. So as each tries to get the other guy in his sights in the burnt out and bombed out buildings of a once great city, we have a good-guy-versus-bad-guy story (the Russians being, unusually for an English-speaking war film, the goodies), a story where the antagonism is class-based, and a further one, if we’re looking really hard, that’s survival versus fun, perhaps even nature versus nurture.

Do we need a love story too? Because on top of this fascinating mano a mano struggle director Annaud (who is producer, director and co-writer) straps a romance, presumably in the hope of turning Enemy at the Gates into a date movie. Enter Rachel Weisz as a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s madness who becomes the apex of a love triangle between our Vassili (Law) and Commisar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) a party apparatchik who is turning reports on Vassili’s marksmanship into mood-bolstering propaganda. The answer to the “do we need a love story” question is no, of course, and it is to an extent the undoing of a film that is absolutely at its best when concentrating on the cat and mouse between slightly feral Vassili and König, his lordly nemesis.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Enemy at the Gates – at Amazon

 

 

 

Shakespeare in Love

Gwyneth Paltrow in drag in Shakespeare in Love

 

 

Judi Dench won an Oscar for an eight-minute on-screen performance, which in her acceptance speech even she admitted was slightly pushing it, but her Elizabeth R was the icing on a very lavish cake that reminded a lot of people that there were other ways to do romantic comedy than the prevailing models – ie Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan doing it the adult Nora Ephron way or Freddie Prinze Jr/Julia Stiles doing the high school equivalent. On second viewing the richness is even more apparent, yet what’s also clear is that the romantic element is handled with a featherlight touch, as “blocked” Bill Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) gets all Romeo and Juliet with a heavily disguised Gwyneth Paltrow (then on her big run of success which included Emma, Sliding Doors and The Talented Mr Ripley). So you can either watch this as a charming if fairly bimbo-brained love story, or engage the mind and drink in the allusions and deliberate anachronisms dropped in by adapter Tom Stoppard. There’s also the fact of playful casting conceits (Ben Affleck pops up), counterpointing what is for the most part a heavy-hitting cast of British stage regulars. Worth every one of its seven Oscars.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Shakespeare in Love – at Amazon