Enemy at the Gates (2001) or The Duel of Two Snipers

It’s interesting how often people mention Enemy at the Gates as one of their favourite war movies, yet I do not see it included very often in more official Best of Lists. I wonder why and can only guess. Maybe because it is too esthetic? Hardly ever have ruins looked this good. Or is it because of the love story? I must admit, I had a problem with it. I don’t mind a love story, although it is mostly a bit tacky in a war movie, but I would have liked this one to be left out. I thought it spoilt an otherwise perfect movie. And I think another cast would have been better as well, apart from an excellent Ed Harris, I didn’t care for the actors. Despite all these reservations, I think it is an excellent movie. The central story is suspenseful and it is one of the most beautifully filmed war movies ever and certainly one of those I will re-watch. And don’t you just love movies about snipers?

Stalingrad 1942. The city is under siege. The German army hopes to win the war and to secure the oil fields near the Caspian Sea. The Russians are well aware if they lose Stalingrad, it is over. The losses are high, morale is low and a little bit of propaganda might do every one a lot of good. That’s why Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins) thinks its high time to fabricate a hero and charges Danilov, an important oficer of the Communist Party, with this mission.

Enemy at the Gates is loosely based on the story of the famous Russian sniper Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law). Vassili has learned to shoot at an early age, and now, in his early twenties he is the best sniper in the Russian army. Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) decides to pick him, and turn him into the hero Khrushchev is looking for. Vassili gets newspaper coverage and publicity and soon his fame is known far beyond the Russian borders and especially the Germans are well aware what a dangerous enemy he is.

Amidst the rubble and the ruins we see two parallel stories unfold. The first story line, follows a love triangle. Through Danilov Vassili meets the Jewish woman Tania (Rachel Weisz). Both men are in love with her but as it seems Tania has only eyes for Vassili. This love triangle is frankly annoying and disrupts the movie. It isn’t even very plausible.

The second story line revolves around the competition between Major König (Ed Harris), a famous German sniper, and Vassili. König is sent to Stalingrad to take out Vassili. All the parts of this second story line are quite gripping. We see the men hunt each other, we see how they get to know each other, how they try to find out how the other will react, how and from where he will shoot, how they try to ambush each other.

Snipers are endlessly patient. They don’t just shoot wildly, they aim carefully, take their time, observe and shoot only when they are fairly sure of hitting their target. Enemy at the Gates perfectly captures this cat-like hunter quality of the sniper and that’s what makes this film so watchable despite its flaws.

The director Jean-Jacques Annaud is famous for his cinematography. He has made one of the visually most compelling movies The Bear or L’ours . Enemy at the Gates is equally stunning from a cinematographic perspective.

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Full Metal Jacket (1987) One of the Most Important But Ambiguous Vietnam Movies

In the hand of another filmmaker than Stanley Kubrick this wouldn’t have become the breathtakingly awesome movie this is. Full Metal Jacket is a visceral experience if there ever was one, a movie whose images will burn themselves into your memory forever. Not an unworthy beginning to a new year of blogging. But also a very controversial one.

As probably most of you know, Full Metal Jacket is like two movies in one. The first part, is the boot camp part, the second the combat part.

During the boot camp part the new recruits are transformed into killers, men who belong to a brotherhood. The drill instructor Gunnery Sgt Hartmann (R. Lee Ermey) is by far one of the most obnoxious war movie characters. But what a performance. Try saying one of the numerous bits he utters without stammering. This part also introduces us to Private Joker (Matthew Modine), an aspiring, cynical journalist. Private Joker symbolizes the controversies around this war. We will see him later, in combat, wearing a peace button and simultaneously a “Born to Kill” slogan on his helmet. Another of this movies memorable characters has his major part in this sequence, Gomer Pyle (Vincent d’Onofrio), a fat and clumsy recruit who winds everybody up because they are punished for his failures that are endless. His final scenes bear all the traces of other Kubrick movies like A Clockwork Orange and The Shining.

Once in the combat zone in Vietnam, we meet other colorful characters, one of them Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), a pure killing machine. At the beginning of his stay Joker is bored like hell. He is a journalist with Stars and Stripes. The guys basically hang around and wait for something to happen and instructions on what they have to report. The Vietnamese they see are either hookers or Vietcong. Any others don’t seem to pass their radar.

The last part is an intense combat part in the cit of Hue. They come under fire and some of them are killed by a sniper hiding in one of the bombed out buildings. As there may still be many people who have never seen Full Metal Jacket I will stop here. It should suffice to say that the last part is intense and not easy to watch.

What struck me most in this movie are the pictures and the colours. Smoke and fire, burning red heaven, bombed out buildings  and palm trees. Apparently the parts in the buildings were filmed in the docklands of London. I don’t know about the rest of the movie. The music is interesting as well. There is a mix between songs of the era and original score that would do any horror movie justice.

I have left out many important, visually powerful and interesting moments. I just wanted to give a short introduction to one of the most extreme and most important war movies that has ever been made. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should watch it.

Full Metal Jacket is also one of those movies that is focussing on the themes War and Journalism and Women in War Movies. Believe me, if you haven’t seen it, we got some interesting elements on both in this movie. If you have seen it, you know what I mean.

I don’t think it is the best Vietnam movie. At least not for me. Of the combat Vietnam movies I consider Platoon, Hamburger Hill, and maybe even We Were Soldiers to be superior. Why? I think, it is fantastic from a cinematographic point of view, but as an anti-war statement I always found it a tad ambiguous. Pretty much like Apocalypse Now.

What do you think?