Enemy at the Gates (also known as Stalingrad: Enemy at the Gates) is a 2001 war movie directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Jude Law as a Russian sniper in the Soviet Red Army in the Great Patriotic War, during the battle of Stalingrad. At the time it came out it was the most expensive film ever produced by an European studio. It's Very Loosely Based on a True Story, that of the real-life sniper Vasily Zaytsev, with the basic plot based off a three-page segment in a non-fiction book of the same name.In the movie, Zaytsev (Law) is a young, slightly naive shepherd from the Urals press-ganged into serving in the Battle of Stalingrad during the German invasion of the South of Soviet Union in 1942. He barely manages to survive a futile charge at the German positions and encounters a political commissar, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), who witnesses him expertly take out five enemy officers single-handedly with just an abandoned rifle and five bullets. Impressed by the young man's gifted marksmanship, Danilov has him reassigned to the sniper division and uses his propaganda connections to spread the story of his exploits, turning him into a hero and restoring the broken morale of the Soviet defenders. Unfortunately, the friendship between the two becomes strained when both fall in love with Tania (Rachel Weisz), a beautiful young woman who crosses the paths of both, and when the Germans, themselves now increasingly demoralized thanks to the stories of Zaytsev's exploits, introduce the cold, ruthless Major König (Ed Harris) into the battle. Himself a brilliant sniper, König has only one order — kill Vasily Zaytsev.
Adaptation Expansion: The book the movie is based off of is a non-fiction book chronicling the entire Battle of Stalingrad. Although Tania and Zaytsev do appear in the book (the former much more so than the latter), the movie's plot is based on a brief segment less than three pages long.
Affably Evil: Major Erwin König, especially when dealing with Sacha.
Anti-Villain: Major König. He's hunting down Vasily and killing his friends, but he's involved in a brutal war which naturally requires him to kill, doesn't engage in atrocities himself until he hangs Sacha, and that's for being a spy, disapproves of torture as shown when he's told of Volodya's capture, and has only come to Stalingrad to avenge the death of his son.
Anyone Can Die: Not surprising, considering it's war and based somewhat on events that happened. A number of supporting characters, including Sacha, are killed by König.
Aristocrats Are Evil: Sort of. König is a Nazi, but at first he's less evil than cold and ruthless in pursuing his task, and his motivation is not personal glory but revenge for the death of his son in the very first days of the battle. Up until his Moral Event Horizon, he comes off as just a guy doing a job, and he does try to avoid what he sees as the need to cross that Moral Event Horizon: he knows the whole time that Sacha's selling him out to Vasili, but he tells the kid to stay home where he belongs (and thus out of the way), implying he'd rather not kill him. It just doesn't stop him when Sacha doesn't listen.
Ascended Extra/Demoted to Extra: Tania appears more in the book than any other combat character, but in the movie plays second-fiddle to Zaytsev and König, who take up only two or three pages. General Paulus is arguably the main character of the book (being the German commander and all), but only has a few seconds of screen time.
Based on a Great Big Lie: Law and Weisz played real people but both Major König and the main plot (German sniper sent to Stalingrad specifically to get Zaytsev) are now believed to be inventions of Soviet wartime propagandists.
This isn't that surprising, really, since a Soviet propagandist is one of the main characters.
Better to Die than Be Killed: The "Disgraced Officer" version was done in this film. Khruschev is brought into Stalingrad to replace the General who had commanded Soviet forces in their initial disastrous counter-attack against the Germans. Khruschev hands him a pistol and says, "Perhaps you would prefer to spare me the paperwork." He leaves the office, we hear a gunshot, and then Khruschev introduces himself as the new commander.
Boom, Headshot: Many examples, as this is the most fool-proof way for snipers to take out enemy infantry.
Children Are Innocent: Not quite. Sacha feeds Vasili all the information he gets out of König, and gives König slightly inaccurate intel on Vasili, but seems to have no idea just how dangerous a situation he's got himself into and volunteered to be a spy because he hero-worships Vasili. Given that the kid's grown up in a war zone and has presumably lost his father to the war, his relative lack of innocence is understandable.
Cold Sniper: Averted. Vasily is most certainly not cold and unemotional. Played straight with Major König.
Tania in real life. According to the book, she referred to the Germans as "sticks", meant for nothing more than breaking.
Evil Versus Evil — Hitler had the Gestapo, the camps and starting the war via the conquest of Poland. Stalin had the NKVD, the gulag and starting the war via the conquest of Poland. The filmmakers were obviously hoping for at least an Enemy Mine sympathy for the protagonists, but asking American audiences to care about a Nazi and a Red chasing each other around Stalingrad in 2001... well, there's a reason the film lost at least 20 million at the US box office.
Face Death with Dignity: When König realizes at the end that he fell into a trap and Vasily has his sights locked on him, he doesn't panic or try to fight it with a futile attempt to dodge it. He just surrenders to the notion, drops his gun, and looks at Vasily before he shoots him.
Flanderization: In the book (and real life), Tania is an expert sniper sent out on assassination missions, with a love affair with Zaystev occasionally mentioned. In the movie, she's entirely consumed by her relationship with Zaystev, to the point where they entirely dropped her soldier aspect.
Grey and Gray Morality: The factions are pretty brutal, but the morality of the main characters edges more towards this. They're mostly just duty-bound soldiers trying to survive a war or to avenge/protect loved ones, even when they do bad things. Also, neither Vasily or König ever demonstrate any real conviction in respectively Stalinist or Nazist ideology.
Khrushchev: "I have to report to The Boss. Shall we cut through the red tape?"
Moe Greene Special: Vasily finally kills König by shooting him straight through his right eye.
The Modest Orgasm: Justified as Vasily and Tania are trying not to wake up the soldiers sleeping all around them as they have sex.
Morton's Fork: "Here the men's only choices are between German bullets and ours."
Nazi Nobleman: Subverted in that, while König is an aristocrat, he's just in it because he wants revenge for his son, who was killed in the first days of the battle.
Nazis with Gnarly Weapons: If you pay attention (or listen to the commentary track) you will observe that whenever the camera is looking down a rifle scope, this trope is illustrated; Russian scopes are shown to have a significantly smaller field of view than German ones.
Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The director justifies this in the commentary track by invoking a variant of the Translation Convention; since there are many, many different regional accents in both Russian and German, it's reasonable that a Ural Mountains boy sounds like Jude Law. Ed Harris at least muted his New Jersey accent, which would have been glaringly out-of-place.
Officer and a Gentleman: König, insofar as it's possible to be in Stalingrad. He's unfailingly polite (which gets downright creepy in his last scenes with Sacha, telling the kid he doesn't blame him for being a spy on behalf of his country. This just before he hangs the boy to draw out Vasily). And, as Rex Reed said, he seems to be the only character in the entire movie who has access to a bar of soap.
Oh Crap: The last two Germans Vasily kills certainly get one when they realize that in the span of less then thirty seconds, three of their comrades were killed, and they had little idea where the shots came from. The final one definitely qualifies when he realized his weapon was not within arms reach. (Something that EVERY army from WW1 on drills into its soldiers from the moment they start training. NEVER leave your weapon where you can not quickly grab it, and use it.)
Sniper Duel: What the plot and center of the action is.
Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: The film opens with a graphic showing the Nazi conquest of Europe, ending as the wave of advance gets to Stalingrad. Curiously, they show Nazi Germany starting out with its mid-war borders and invading their Allies (Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgarianote Those first two did happen historically later on, but that's not what they're showing) and several neutral countries (Switzerland, Spain, Turkey) as well. This might be handwaved though if you simply think of the expanding boundary as Germany's "Influence" rather then its actual military conquest, which it did indeed gain over its allies and even the neutrals, as Spain, Turkey, and arguably even Switzerland were at least sympathetic to the Axis cause.
Translation Convention: The Soviets tend to speak in British English and the Germans tend to speak in American English. Tania was actually from America and would be even less likely to speak British English.
Truth in Television: Around that point in the war, running away from a battle really was punishable by death in the Soviet Union. Stalin had ordered "Not one step backwards", and the commissars followed it.
The film makes a common error in the Western view of the Battle of Stalingrad, and even the whole war (perhaps in large part because of this movie)—the worst equipped units in the Red Army, including those in Stalingrad, did not lack rifles but the ammunition for them. This becomes pretty obvious in hindsight, once you consider the logistical nightmare of war in general, and the fact that the Soviet Union, following the German invasion, was practically swimming in guns.
The real-life Tania was wounded and was separated from Zaytsev. She later found out (correctly) that he had been injured by a landmine, and that (incorrectly) he had died of his wounds. She only discovered that Zaytsev had survived and married someone else when she was interviewed by the book's author. The news devastated her, for she never married and still loved Zaytsev.
In a sickeningly ironic twist, Tania had also been wounded by a landmine on an assassination mission, and Zaytsev was told that she had died. Since the author never interviewed him, it's likely that he never found out unless he read the book.
Zaystev is the only character who's portrayal matches the more accurate ones documented in the book; Tania is portrayed as a slightly sociopathic Cold Sniper, König is not seeking revenge (and likely didn't exist), and several other characters from the movie weren't real.
The film takes considerable liberties with future First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev's role at Stalingrad.
War Is Glorious: "We must publish the army newspaper again and tell magnificent stories - stories that exalt sacrifice, bravery. We must make them believe in a victory. We must give them hope, pride, a desire to fight. Yes, we need to make examples, but examples to follow. What we need are heroes."
You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Subverted. Commissar Danilov has a report written on Zaitsev's disloyalty, defeatist statements and disillusionment with the Communist cause, but Zaitsev survives and becomes a war hero.
Played straight when Khrushchev hands a gun to an officer that has failed to achieve a mission.