Enemy at the Gates is an American War thriller produced in 2001 and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. The title of the book is borrowed from a novel by William Craig, which is a nonfiction book titled: Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad (1973), describing the events that surrounded the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942 to 1943. The book is based on nonfiction stories told by Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev. However, the film itself is a fictional account of the Vasilii Zaitsev, the Soviet sniper who became famous during the Battle of Stalingrad. The action of the film revolves about the duel between Zaitsev and a German sniper sent out to get rid of him. In the process, the director also relies on the battle of Stalingrad to illustrate the horrors of the Nazi-Soviet conflict that stemmed from the analysis of the Soviet soldier of which it was a valuable corrective to the overpoweringly German point of view of the Russo-German conflict in both the film and the print.
In the movie,Vasily Zaytsev finds himself and fellow soldiers in a tight spot in the Battle of Stalingrad, he uses some impressive marksmanship skills learned from his grandfather to save himself and Danilov, which warrants his favor from him. Upon arrival of Nikita Khrushchev to Stalingrad wishing to boost the morale of the soldiers, Danilov, who was now senior ranking, suggests to him that it is important to create a hero who becomes an icon for the other soldiers to emulate and hence prints stories of Vasily’s prowess. Vasily is then moved to the sniper unit where they become friends with Danilop and are both romantically interested in Tania a citizen of Stalingrad, who had become a private local militia and Danilop transfers her to an intelligence unit away from the battlefield. With the Soviet snipers taking a toll on the German forces, a German major named Erwin König a renown German Army sniper is deployed to Stalingrad to take out Vasily so as to kill the morale of the Soviet forces and the entire film revolves around the two running after one another.
The film contains accurate and inaccurate historical events and is hence moderately accurate although it is a fiction. Its accuracy is demonstrated in the fact that there was a place called Stalingrad where there was an ongoing war between the Soviets and the Nazis during the Second World War just as is indicated in the book. The battle of Stalingrad was gruesome and brutal as depicted in the film; in fact, some historians would say that the movie underplayed it. Moreover, the movie is accurate in fact that there existed a Russian sniper that was one of the best-known snipers in the Red Army at the period. His success was trumpeted across the Russian military to promote interest for soldiers to join sniper role. As for the duel in the film, there is not an accurate account of the phase between Vasily and the German sniper. It is because, the Soviet sources claim that Vasily shot down the German sniper after a hunt for several days and, in fact, the rifle used is kept as a treasured trophy in the Moscow armed forces museum. However, there is not such documentation from the reports by Shcherbakov, who ensured that every act of ‘sniperism’ was reported with relish. Therefore, it remains a case of speculation, and the story is unconvincing. The character of Tania was also heavily fictionalized. Historically, she was a sniper herself and trained under Vasily and became one of the ruthless and infamous snipers herself. She had joined the war after the Nazis murdered her grandparents and hence sought revenge for their death.
The film was made at a time that the world was facing a threat of a possible armed conflict yet again. The film acts as a very good documentation of the futility of war and as a reminder of the ugliness of war. Even with the Arab Spring uprising gathering momentum, watching the film would make one rethink having to go to war as it portrays war as being brutal and gruesome and the beginning scenes are horrific enough to deter one to advocate for war.
The film is topnotch entertainment and would not recommend for anyone to watch it in search of accurate historical events. Enemy at the Gates is a historical drama that is purely entertaining and has twisted the past to ensure that it remains thrilling to the audience. The film successfully immerses the viewer into the tense drama of the war. Its tight focus, uncompromising realism and the excellent characterization of the principal actors will keep every audience at the edge of their seats. It is a thrilling account t of war that gets the look and the feel of a war right getting the viewer to understand the situation of war at times. However, it had flaws also of a plot on romance as it felt misplaced and the lovers of history would feel that the film glorified war at the expense of accuracy in history. I, therefore, recommend it as a form of entertainment and not a documentation of the past.