Panfilov's 28 Men (28 панфиловцев) is a 2016 film from Russia directed by Kim Druzhinin and Andrey Shalopa.
It is based on the legend of Panfilov's 28 Guardsmen. The setting is November 1941. After five brutal months of war, the hordes of Nazi Germany are making their final push towards Moscow. The 316th Rifle Division is sent to the Dubosekovo railway station, on the western approaches to the capital. The men go through extensive anti-tank training, and they are smart enough to figure out that this signifies they will be facing the Germans soon.
On November 16, 1941, the men, led by political officer Capt. Klochkov and Sgt. Dobrobabvin, take their positions in the trenches outside Dubosekovo. They dig decoy trenches which lures the Germans to aim their artillery barrage for the wrong place, allowing the Russians to easily repulse the first charge. However, the Germans get the range, and their next bombardment does terrible damage to the Russians in the trenches. The 316th is left with only 28 men to defend that sector of trench...and the Germans are coming again.
The Real Life story of Panfilov's 28 Guardsmen became one of the legends of Russia's Great Patriotic War, an inspirational tale that inspired a huge monument at Dubosekovo and is memorialized in the anthem of the city of Moscow. It turned out to be totally made up.
- Based on a Great Big Lie: The original story in Russian newspapers, published in late November 1941 as the Germans were still advancing towards Moscow, held that a squad of 28 men fought until they were all killed, taking out 18 tanks. It attracted the attention of Josef Stalin himself, which proved a problem when the Russian reporters looking for more information discovered that the story was completely fabricated. There was no such fight to the death, and the Germans actually achieved their objectives for that day with relative ease. Needing to find more info for Stalin, the journalists basically picked a spot and a unit—the 4th company of the 1075th regiment of the 316th division—and attributed the inspiring tale to them. The heroism of the 4th company proved a sensation in Russia...until Sgt. Ivan Dobrobabin, one of the 28 men who supposedly fought to the death, turned up alive after the war. This truth was suppressed, and the story of Panfilov's 28 Guardsmen was treated in Russia as fact until after the fall of Communism. This film basically tells the legendary story of the 28 Guardsmen, with one change: while the legend says that the Guardsmen fought to the last man, in the movie six survive. This is a nod to how in Real Life, six members of the 4th Company actually did survive the war. (One of them served with the Germans!)
- Binocular Shot: Seen multiple times from the perspective of a Nazi tank commander who is watching the course of the battle through his binoculars. Eventually, he calls a retreat.
- Epic Tracking Shot: A nifty shot starts off with a close-up of the smoking barrel of Danil's machine gun. It then pulls up and back into a high crane shot that pans back and forth to show the whole range of the smoking, corpse-strewn battlefield.
- Flat Character: There is little attempt at giving any of the characters depth or backstories; they are all brave, hearty Russians of peasant stock defending their motherland. Other than the Kazakh soldier who contemplates what it means to be Russian and whether other Soviet ethnicities are included, the characters are largely interchangeable.
- Fly Away Shot: The last shot is a fly-away shot showing the statues of Panfilov's Men, 10-meter high stone statues at Dubosekovo, commemorating their brave stand (which never happened).
- Foreshadowing: A Russian soldier, as the whole unit is marching to its position, tells the story of how the Greeks held the pass of Thermopylae against the Persians. That of course is exactly what Panfilov's 28 men do the next day.
- Gatling Good: As the sun sets it seems like the last few survivors will be overrun by a charge of German infantry. However, Danil has taken position behind a machine gun on the edge of the sector. He opens up with a fusillade that wipes out all of the advancing German infantry and leads the tank commander to call a retreat.
- Last Breath Bullet
- One of the men is shot in the chest, but is still able to throw his Molotov cocktail onto a German tank before he dies.
- Another man is about to fling a cluster of grenades at a tank when he is also shot in the chest. Another soldier grabs his grenades, asks "Can you shoot?", and, after he's answered with a nod, gives the wounded man a machine gun. The wounded man manages to squeeze off a few more bursts before he dies.
- Lecture as Exposition:
- An officer teaches the men how to attack German tanks and exploit their weak points, which helps the audience understand what's happening later in the film.
- Then a meeting of officers lays out the strategic situation as the Germans advance on Moscow.
- Man on Fire: On two different occasions, Men On Fire can be seen trying and failing to escape from a German tank.
- Multinational Team: Some of the soldiers in the unit are not ethnic Russian but from the republics of Central Asia. One, a Kazakh, wonders if he and his fellow Kazakhs can qualify as "Russians"; he is told that anyone who fights for Russia is a Russian. (A company from Kazakhstan kicked in some of the funding for this film.)
- The Political Officer: Capt. Klochkov, the political officer who winds up leading the 28 men in battle. Unlike most depictions of the political officer in works outside of Russia, in this film Klochkov is shown to be a brave and inspiring leader.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: A German opens the escape hatch of a damaged tank. A Russian soldier jumps up, says "Going somewhere?", and kicks him in the face. Then he throws a grenade in the tank before slamming the hatch shut.
- Shout-Out: An amusing exchange mixes Shout-Out with Anachronism Stew. A Russian soldier regales his comrades with a tale of a Japanese village that hired seven samurai to defend them against forty bandits. Another soldier said that he heard this story, but that it was not in Japan, but in America with seven cowboys. This is of course a Shout-Out to Seven Samurai and its American remake The Magnificent Seven, both of which were released many years after the events of this film.
- War Is Glorious: This is an unapologetically patriotic movie, as explained in the opening title card, with a quote supposedly attributed to the commander of the 316th Division.Memories of war are not only about pain and grief.
They are about battles and exploits.
And about Victory!
- You Shall Not Pass!: Sentiments to this effect are expressed by an officer in a speech to the men the night before the battle. He tells them that the Germans want to conquer Moscow, "but they will not pass, because we will be standing here!"