Enemy at the Gate (2001)



Director:  Jean Jacques Annaud.

Starring:  Jude Law (Russian sniper), Joseph Fiennes (Russian journalist), Ed Harris (German sniper), Rachel Weisz (Russian soldier), Bob Hoskins (Russian commander).

Russian sniper vs. German sniper at Stalingrad




Things were grim for the Russians and looked good for the Germans, as Hitler expected Stalingrad to fall to his army.  The one ray of hope for the Russians were news stories about an extraordinary sniper named Vassili Zaitsev, who had killed more than 200 German soldiers. The Russian sniper is so successful and getting so much attention that the Germans decide to eliminate him.  To do this, they send their top sniper to kill Vassili.   

To make this simple plot more exciting, the movie makes use of a love triangle as its central theme between the Russian hero, the journalist that was making his name famous, and a female Russian soldier.  It is a little hard to imagine love flourishing amidst such grimness and dirt and filth, but it does make the movie more palatable.  The ending is more dramatic than the true story, but, hey, they have to make a profit or we wouldn't even get any historical films from Hollywood.  

An irritating feature is the mix of accents.  At times I wasn't sure if I was watching a film about the Russian soldiers or about English soldiers.  


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:

Vassili Zaitsev grew up in the forests around his home in Elininski in the foothills of the Ural Mountains.  He loved deer hunting and became known for killing his prey with a single shot. He was later to make great use of this skill.

1942 September --   Zaitsev goes to Stalingrad with the 284th Rifles Division.  He soon had almost 40 kills within a ten day period and this came to the attention of the Soviet press.  He suddenly became a hero.  

The Germans, concerned about the effect of snipers on their troops, sent Major Koning, the chief instructor of their sniper school, from Berlin to Stalingrad to kill the top Soviet snipers.

The Soviets learned of Koning's mission through interrogating a prisoner. And when two Soviet snipers were killed by single rifle shots, Zaitsev made the killing of Koning his chief occupation.

The two men were quite similar in their sniping techniques. Both men first carefully studied the terrain before engaging in a bout of sniping and they both had a penchant for the single rifle shot. The so-called "duel" lasted just several days.  Koning did kill a journalist, named Danilov, reporting on the confrontation between the two snipers.

Zaitsev had his assistant Zulikov lift his helmet over a wall and, as expected, Koning put a bullet through it. Playing his part to the hilt, Zulikov cried out, pretending to be hit. Meanwhile, Zaitsev had seen the position from where the muzzle flash came and he shot into that position, killing Koning.

At Stalingrad he had 149 kills, 1 shy of his promised 150 kills and his war total was 400 kills.
Major Koning's telescopic sight is still on exhibit in the Moscow armed forces museum.


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