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Enemy at the Gates



Enemy at the Gates DVD cover
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Produced by Jean-Jacques Annaud
John D. Schofield
Written by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Alain Godard
Starring Jude Law

Ed Harris
Rachel Weisz
Joseph Fiennes

Music by James Horner
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) 2001
Running time 131 min.
Language English / German
Budget $70,000,000 (estimated)
IMDb profile

Enemy at the Gates is a motion picture directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and released in 2001, adapted from the David L. Robbins book called The War of the Rats. Robbins borrowed elements from William Craig's book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad which describe the events surrounding during the Battle of Stalingrad, 1942-1943. The movie follows Soviet sniper Vasily Grigoryevich Zaitsev and his German rival, Major Erwin König, as they stalk each other during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Historian Anthony Beevor suggests in his book, Stalingrad, that, while Zaitsev was definitely a real person, the story of his duel (dramatized in the film) with König is fictional. William Craig's novel Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad however, states that although Zaitsev and König fought against each other in combat, the sequence of events in the film is almost entirely fictional.




Stalingrad, 1942. The German invasion of Russia has reached the city of Stalingrad, reducing the city to rubble as the Soviet and Nazi armies battle for the fate of Russia. Vasily Zaitsev (Jude Law), a not very educated peasant from the Urals conscripted into the Red Army, manages to survive both a suicidal charge without a weapon into the front lines of the German attack and the NKVD machine gunners shooting survivors who tried to flee. Acquiring a rifle, Zaitsev an expert marksman manages to kill five German officers in a row with the only five bullets he has, impressing a witnessing political officer, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes). Writing an account of Zaitsev's achievement in the military newspaper, Danilov manages to inspire the broken, morale-sapped people of the Soviet Union to renew their efforts against the German invaders, and Zaitsev becomes a national hero and propaganda icon.

The friendship between the two men is to be tested, however, as both have fallen in love with Tanya (Rachel Weisz), a Jewish citizen of the city who, inspired by Zaitsev, has joined the sniper division. Fearing the Soviet snipers and the demoralising effect they are having on their own men, the Germans have sent for Major Erwin König (Ed Harris), the best sniper in the German military, to seek out and eliminate Zaitsev.


 Detailed plot outline


 Introduction - Crossing the Volga

The movie opens several years before the events of the Battle of Stalingrad, as a young Vasily Zaitsev is taught how to hunt and shoot by his grandfather. A horse has been tied down, acting as a lure to the wolves - and as one approaches the horse, his grandfather urges the terrified boy to shoot, and the young Vasily is not able to fire. His grandfather must take the shot.

September 20, 1942. The battle as seen from across the Volga River

The movie then cuts to years later. Zaitsev, now a grown man, wears the uniform of a soldier in the Red Army, and is traveling in a train's cattle truck along with a mixture of soldiers and civilians. He manages to catch the eye of Tanya (Rachel Weisz), a dark-haired young woman, before she, along with the other civilians, is taken off the train to make way for more soldiers. The train is hurriedly converted into a military convoy, headed for Stalingrad. A voice-over provides background information: it is 1942, Nazi Germany has overcome most of Europe and invaded the Soviet Union, and the two mighty armies have met at Stalingrad, where 'the fate of the world' is being played out.

Upon arriving on the outskirts of Stalingrad, the soldiers are moved from the train to river barges, to cross the Volga. The city is a bombed-out ruin, the Soviet and German armies fighting within the city limits, and the crossing is fraught with danger. As political officers read out 'letters from Soviet children to their president Stalin' to inspire the terrified troops, the barges are constantly attacked by Stuka dive bombers that strafe and bomb the unprotected barges. Although Vasily's barge remains afloat, several conscripts attempt to flee, and are promptly shot as deserters by officers.


 The battle

A Ju 87 Stuka attacks troop ships crossing the Volga

Upon disembarking at the docks of Stalingrad, the conscripts are issued with their weapons - or rather, the rifles and the 5-round clips are divided between the soldiers, with one man getting a Mosin-Nagant rifle and the man behind him receiving the 5-round clip; the idea being that when the man in front is shot, the man behind him picks up the gun and loads it if need be. Vasily unfortunate enough to be issued merely with ammunition insists that he 'need(s) a rifle'.

The attack begins. As the well-entrenched Germans prepare themselves, the Soviet commanders exhort their men to victory, and remind them that traitors and cowards will be shot. The resulting charge is little more than a massacre: the Germans freely slaughtering the poorly-armed Soviet wave of men, who are consequently told to retreat. But those who retreat too far are gunned down as deserters.


 Zaitsev meets Danilov

After the battle, a car races through the streets, under fire from a German panzer. Knocked off the road, the driver- Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), a Soviet political officer - flees to the safety of a ruined statue's walled garden, hiding amongst the corpses of the Soviet dead as the Germans in the tank casually machine gun the corpses before they leave. Across the street, a car arrives, and several German officers exit, one taking a shower as the others relax.

Vasily Zaitsev (left), played by Jude Law, with Commisar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes)

Taking a gun from one of the dead, Danilov attempts to shoot at them, but the rifle has no ammunition left. Movement next to him, however, reveals Zaitsev, who has also taken refuge in the garden, and he offers Danilov the handful of bullets he received at the beginning of the charge. Danilov then tries to shoot again, but he is inexperienced and incompetent with the weapon and hands it over to Zaitsev. Zaitsev, using the ambience of artillery as sound cover, proceeds to pick off the 5 Germans using only 5 rounds, much to Danilov's surprise.

Not long after, Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins) Soviet commander and Joseph Stalin's personal representative - arrives in Stalingrad to coordinate the city defences. Berating the Soviet commander for his failure to resist, Khruschev advises the general to 'avoid the red tape' before Khruschev files his report and as the general shoots himself, Khruschev sees the assembled political officers, including Danilov. Reminding them of the city's strategic and political importance as it bears Stalin's name, he demands to know their suggestions to improve morale. Whilst the other officers, terrified, urge greater brutality towards the soldiers and citizens, Danilov the lone alternative voice - instead urges that they 'give them hope!'. As the people at the moment only have a choice between German bullets and Russian bullets, Danilov suggests that they create examples to follow, heroes for the people to idolize and he has just the man in mind.

Danilov's account of Zaitsev's exploits becomes national news, and Zaitsev is transferred from the regular forces to the Soviet sniper service. As Zaitsev and his fellow snipers take their toll on the German forces, he and Danilov who is recording all of his exploits, and reaping the political benefits also become firm friends.


 Major König arrives and the first encounter

General Friedrich Paulus (left), played by Matthias Habich, meets with Major Erwin König, played by Ed Harris

Due to the immense casualties being inflicted by Soviet snipers in the city, Major Erwin König is dispatched to Stalingrad to help counter this threat and boost German morale. Shortly after arriving by train, König meets with General Friedrich Paulus to discuss the situation, during which Paulus tells König that he had to recently promote 25 Sergeants to replace the officers killed by snipers. With shaky confidence in Hitler's persistence of taking the city, Paulus assures König that they will be home by Christmas.

Asked as to how he will hunt down Zaitsev, König replies that he will arrange it that Zaitsev will be the one to find him first.

The next day Zaitsev is awakened to help find and kill a sniper lurking in the Department Store sector, who recently killed five Soviet officers and two machine gunners. Zaitsev, with the aid of two other snipers, think they killed the sniper when they see his helmet tumble to the ground after being shot. When they go to retrieve the sniper's dog tags, König kills one of the Soviet snipers. When Zaitsev arrives at the sniper's window, they find it was a decoy. König, hiding in the building, kills the other sniper; Zaitsev manages to escape in the confusion caused by a German air raid. Following the first encounter, Major König studies Russian publications about Zaitsev while having his shoes polished by a young Russian boy named Sacha Fillipov (Gabriel Marshall-Thomson).

When it is realized that the Germans have dispatched Major König to Stalingrad to eliminate Zaitsev, a Soviet sniper named Koulikov (Ron Perlman) is called upon to assist Zaitsev in fighting König. Koulikov studied under König before the war, and thus had a deep understanding of the tactics employed by the German snipers. Zaitsev is then summoned to a publicity meeting with Khrushchev in front of members of the press.

Vasily, along with Koulikov and a third sniper, enter Stalingrad's ruins to hunt König. They wait out the time killing German soldiers trying to lay telephone cables. Meanwhile, König hears reports of all the sniper activity that day, and homes in on the deaths of the cable laying soldiers. When he arrives, the Germans have captured Vasily's third companion. They dress him as a German soldier and make hime lay cable in the open. Koulikov mistakenly kills him, revealing their position. As Koulikov and Vasily are relocating, Koenig kills Koulikov mid jump, a shot Vasily later claims is practically impossible.

Vasily is afraid that König is too good to be beaten, but Danilov encourages him. Meanwhile, Sacha tells König where he can ambush Vasily on his way through a tractor factory. Sacha is acting as a double agent for Danilov, who wants to set up König for Vasily. In the tractor factory, König manages to trap Vasily, separating him from his rifle. Vasily is saved by Tanya, who distracts König so that Vasily can retrieve his rifle and shoot at König, wounding his hand.


 Main cast


 Goofs, Trivia, etc.



  • On the poster a left-handed variant of the sniper Mosin-Nagant is shown. This is most likely a mirror flipped image of the rifle, since there are no known examples of the left-handed Mosin-Nagants in existence.
  • In the scene where Danilov meets Vasily, Danilov pulls a rifle from a dead soldier. The rifle's bolt handle is in the open position as he shoulders it. A second later as the camera angle changes to a head on view the bolt handle is closed. Danilov had no time to close the bolt correctly as he shouldered the rifle.
  • In the scene where the Army newspaper is first re-printed, Danilov lists places in Russia that were reprinting Vasily Zaitsev's story; he wrongly lists the Crimea, which at that time was in the hands of the Germans.
  • Soviet conscripts transported to the front in padlocked cars: in reality, train cars doors were open so that the soldiers could jump out in case of an air strike.
  • Soldiers didn't have to stand in the cars all the way to the front, which could take many days, they would use crude wooden bunks or just sit or sleep on the floor instead.
  • Danilov is a commissar throughout the whole movie, although in the Red Army this rank was abolished on October 9, 1942. Moreover, when he meets Vasily, he introduces himself as "politruk". This was a different rank, equal to elder lieutenant, while commissar was equal to the rank of major.
  • Everybody calls the main character Vasily, including his grandfather. Among Russians, however, the full names are usually used formally. With family and close friends, Russians use diminutive names. The diminutive form of "Vasily" is "Vasya" or "Vas'ka".
  • Machine-gunning of Russian human wave remnants is directed by an officer with green border guard emblem on peak cap.
  • After destruction of the last human wave, Germans would likely start a counter-attack.
  • Stalin's portrait, which reminds of his cruelty and inhumanity, could be created only by a dissident artist of a much later era.
  • Soviet soldiers charging in "human wave" fashion: in reality, they used sophisticated street and house-to-house fighting techniques, organizing small but effective battlegroups.
  • Instead of dancing, the Soviet soldiers in reality would spend their rest time sleeping, cleaning weapons or eating, if they had anything to eat at all.
  • In the film, the slogans used by the Red Army are along the lines of "For Stalin", and "For our great leader". This was mostly biased to the view of Western powers at the time of Communist Russia. In 1942, different Russian slogans were used. Those were mainly war slogans, such as "We will overcome", "Death to Nazi occupants" or "Everything for the front, everything for victory".
  • The film is set in 1942. However, at the press conference the national anthem played is the Hymn of the Soviet Union that was finalized in late 1943 and first publicly performed on the night to January 1, 1944. Until this time, the national anthem was The Internationale. To make this goof worse, the 1977 revised version of the anthem is played. When Vasily Zaitsev was embraced by Nikita Khrushchev in a press conference, shown at 49:42 of the movie in the DVD release, the anthem was played in the background; at 50:17 in the movie, the song sang: Партия Ленина сила народная. The 1944 lyrics actually read: Знамя советское, знамя народное.
  • 116 infantry division never existed in Wehrmacht. 116 Panzer division was formed from the remnants of 16th panzer-grenadier division only in 1944.
  • Zaitsev has his left ear pierced, a popular method to mark homosexuals (which he was not) in Soviet prisons of the era.
  • Kruschev (who in reality was much younger than Bob Hoskins' character) and Danilov discuss possible Zaitsev's death with situation map on the background, adorned by Latin, not Cyrillic text as well as by marks of jet airports.
  • Office binders, seen behind Kruschev's back on the shelf, appeared in Russia only in the 1990s.
  • Central railroad station marshalling yard, scene of the last duel, was bombed to ruins during numerous German air strikes and no locomotive would survive it intact.
  • City supermarkets with warm clothes and anything valuable would be looted back in July-August.
  • Major König would attend his sniper nests dressed in camouflage or even quasi-civilian clothes, not in a clean elegant parka.
  • Experienced German soldiers would never salute or stand before a officer in front of Soviet sniper fire.
  • Ervin König's very existence is highly arguable, no German documents with this name have surfaced so far. Later in his memoires Zaitsev referred to his opponent as Heinz Thorvald, but no proof of his existence has been found either. In fact, top-scoring German sniper of the WWII was Matthias Hetzenauer with 345 documented kills.
  • Woman working on her make-up with modern cosmetics.
  • The map of Hitler's conquests near the beginning of the film is fictional. Mistakes include an apparent invasion of Switzerland, Spain and Turkey]. Oddly, modern day Serbia is shown as a separate country from Yugoslavia, and is twice as large as it was. Ukraine is also shown as a separate entity, however it achieved independence only in the process of Soviet Union break-up in 1991. Norway is also left out, despite that fact that it was occupied by Germany in 1940.
  • In the retreat of Soviet soldiers after the initial charge, one of the "dead" soldiers can be seen breathing.
  • During the Soviet charge at the beginning of the movie, none of the Soviet rifles have bayonets fixed. Soviet military doctrine called for the bayonet to remain fixed to the rifle at all times with the exception of traveling by motor vehicle or when in long term storage.



  • Annaud started his film career by shooting training films for the French Army.
  • The first few levels of the Russian Campaign in Call of Duty and Call of Duty: Finest Hour were inspired by the opening scenes.
  • Annaud made the film also as a sort of tribute to his friend and fellow director Sergio Leone, who had been trying to make a film about the Siege of Leningrad at the time of his death.
  • The $80 million film budget was provided mostly by German investors.
  • Arno employed a crew of 300 and 500 extras.
  • The fighting in Stalingrad was actually shot near Berlin, Germany.
  • The Volga crossing was filmed near Cottbus, Germany.
  • Before the film's shooting, Annaud showed to the cast and crew classic Russian films about WWII Баллада о солдате (Ballad about a Soldier) by G. Chukhrai, Летят журавли (Cranes are Flying) by M.Kalatozov, and Иваново детство (Ivan's Childhood) by A.Tarkovsky.



The film was criticized both in Russia and in the West for taking considerable liberties with the facts; in both its plot and in the depictions of its characters (notably Fiennes' character, Danilov, and the German sniper König), it varies widely from the historical record. The actual Soviet Stalingrad veterans were so offended by inaccuracies in the movie and the allegedly insulting way in which the movie portrays the Red Army, that on May 7, 2001, soon after this film was shown in Russia, they addressed their grievances to State Duma, the Russian Parliament, demanding to ban the film in Russia, but this request has not been taken into account.


 External links