September 3, 2009

Enemy at the Gates (or Behind the Lens Cap?)

**Warning. This review contains epic amounts of fail. So much fail, I might add, that it is questionable whether or not there is room for anything BUT fail in this movie. Also, spoilers.**

I first watched Enemy at the Gates on my couch in my apartment, after finding it free on one of those sketchy offshore servers that have been holding down the music industry like a dominatrix during Burning Man. It was a nice night. Then I was thrown into a violent rage.

Enemy at the Gates, a A-list historical drama from 2001, was supposed to be for the Battle of Stalingrad what Saving Private Ryan was for D-Day. Both are films that are epic in scope, filled with soldiers and the people who love them, and feature "sympathetic" looks at the gruff-and-tumble vets with cigarettes dangling out of the side of their perpetually mud-covered faces while they complain that "they're getting too old for this." Though don't be fooled into thinking they're equivalent movies, however. Saving Private Ryan won Best Picture and was, at the time, the most realistic war movie ever put to film. Enemy at the Gates featured a Jude Law sex scene.

Saving Private Ryan focused on American troops deployed in France on a mission for country and brotherhood, facing harrowing combat that taught them the true nature of patriotism and the meaning of freedom. Enemy at the Gates spends so much energy bashing it's communist characters that the Nazis look like schnitzel-eating good guys who want to conquer Europe in the name of puppies.

Saving Private Ryan discussed deep-seated issues of patriarchy and fraternity in the American military institution. Enemy at the Gates had a love triangle so inane that it made Pearl Harbor's subplots look like an epic romance.

Did I mention that, in the worst makeup decision since Orson Welles smeared shit all over Charleston Heston's face, both films use mud as the primary cosmetic device? Were the filmmakers not aware that even people on the battlefield have been known to wash their faces? (How did their faces even get that dirty in the first place? Are their pillows made of coal?)

Enemy at the Gates is about Jude Law, a naive Russian boy, who grows up to become the Soviet Union's most famous sniper with the help of his good friend, a commissar in the Communist Party. Between them there is a woman, Rachel Weisz, who is actually a very talented actress if you watch any other movie, especially if she's not in it. The movie takes place entirely during the battle of Stalingrad, one of the most heroic battles in the war's history. Even Cold War American historians thought that Stalingrad a heroic tale of survival and defiance in the face of Fascism. Enemy at the Gates doesn't buy into that rhetoric, however, and prefers to show wave-after-wave of Russian soldiers getting mowed down in slow motion while dramatic music plays like a cheap knockoff of a Sam Peckinpah movie with slightly fewer Mexicans.

But when it comes to crowning achievements in badness, the ending of this movie takes the cake. I won't reveal it, but I will say that one of the main characters makes a speech about how socialism will never work because of love triangles, and then kills himself. I raged. I threw a fit. If I had been in the theater, I might have actually punched something in the face. This movie pretends so hard to be good. It tries so hard to be that seminal big-budget film about WWII that could get post 9/11 audiences to open their hearts and pocketbooks to the War on Terror. Unfortunately, some war movies just don't know when to quit. The rest of us, on the other hand, should quit before we're at the gates.

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