Enemy at the Gates

Enemy at the Gates (FR: L' Ennemi aux portes) is a 2001 war film written and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and based on William Craig's 1973 nonfiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, which describes the events surrounding the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942 and 1943.[5] The screenplay was written by Annaud and Alain Godard. The film's main character is a fictionalized version of sniper Vasily Zaytsev, a Hero of the Soviet Union during World War II.[6] It includes a snipers' duel between Zaytsev and a Wehrmacht sniper school director, Major Erwin König.

Enemy at the Gates
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJean-Jacques Annaud
Produced byJean-Jacques Annaud
John D. Schofield
Written byJean-Jacques Annaud
Alain Godard
Based onEnemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad
by William Craig
Music byJames Horner
CinematographyRobert Fraisse
Edited byNoëlle Boisson
Humphrey Dixon
Mandalay Pictures
Repérage Films
Distributed byParamount Pictures (United States)
Pathé Distribution (France)
Constantin Film (Germany)
Release date
  • March 16, 2001 (2001-03-16)
Running time
128 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$68 million[4]
Box office$97 million[4]

The cast includes Jude Law as Zaytsev, Rachel Weisz as Tania Chernova, and Ed Harris as König, with Joseph Fiennes, Bob Hoskins, Ron Perlman, Eva Mattes, Gabriel Marshall Thomson, and Matthias Habich.


In 1942, following the invasion of the Soviet Union the year before, Vasily Zaitsev, a shepherd from the Ural Mountains who is now a soldier in the Red Army, finds himself on the front lines of the Battle of Stalingrad. Forced into a suicidal charge by barrier troops against the invading Germans, he uses impressive marksmanship skills, which had been taught to him at a young age by his grandfather, to save himself and commissar Danilov.

Nikita Khrushchev arrives in Stalingrad to coordinate the city's defences and demands ideas to improve morale. Danilov, now a senior lieutenant, suggests that the people need figures to idolise and give them hope, and he publishes tales of Vasily's exploits in the army's newspaper that paint him as a national hero and propaganda icon. Vasily is transferred to the sniper division and becomes friends with Danilov. Both also become romantically interested in Tania Chernova, a citizen of Stalingrad who has become a private in the local militia. In fear for her safety, Danilov has her transferred to an intelligence unit away from the battlefield, ostensibly to make use of her German skills in translating radio intercepts.

With the Soviet snipers taking an increasing toll on the German forces, German Major Erwin König is deployed to Stalingrad to kill Vasily to crush Soviet morale. A renowned marksman and head of the German Army sniper school at Zossen, he lures Vasily into a trap and kills two of his fellow snipers, but Vasily manages to escape. When the Red Army command learns of König's mission, they dispatch König's former student Koulikov to help Vasily kill him. König, however, outmaneuvers Koulikov and kills him with a very skillful shot, shaking Vasily's spirits considerably. Khrushchev pressures Danilov to bring the sniper standoff to a conclusion.

Sasha, a young Soviet boy, volunteers to act as a double agent by passing König false information about Vasily's whereabouts to give Vasily a chance to ambush the major. Vasily sets a trap for König and manages to wound him, but during a second attempt, Vasily falls asleep after many sleepless hours, and his sniper log is stolen by a looting German soldier. The German command takes the log as evidence of Vasily's death and plans to send König home, but König does not believe that Vasily is dead. The commanding German general takes König's dog tags to prevent Soviet propaganda from profiting if König is killed. König also gives the general a War Merit Cross that was posthumously awarded to König's son, who as a lieutenant in the 116th infantry division was killed in the early days of the Battle for Stalingrad. König tells Sasha where König will be next, suspecting that the boy will tell Vasily. Tania and Vasily have meanwhile fallen in love and have sex in the Soviet barracks at night. The jealous Danilov disparages Vasily in a letter to his superiors.

König spots Tania and Vasily waiting for him at his next ambush spot, confirming his suspicions about Sasha. He then kills the boy and hangs his body off a pole to bait Vasily. Vasily vows to kill König and sends Tania and Danilov to evacuate Sasha's mother from the city, but Tania is wounded by shrapnel en route to the evacuation boats. Thinking that she is dead, Danilov regrets his jealousy of Vasily and expresses disenchantment over his previous ardency for the communist cause. Finding Vasily waiting to ambush König, Danilov intentionally exposes himself in order to provoke König into shooting him and revealing his hidden position. Thinking that he has killed Vasily, König goes to inspect the body but realizes too late that he has fallen into a trap and is in Vasily's sights. Accepting his fate, König removes his hat and turns to face Vasily, who shoots him squarely in the forehead. Two months later, after Stalingrad has been liberated and the German forces have surrendered, Vasily finds Tania recovering in a field hospital.



Filming was done in Germany. The crossing of the Volga River was done on the Altdöberner See, a man-made lake near the village of Pritzen, south of Brandenburg. A derelict factory in the village of Rudersdorf was used to recreate the ruins of Stalingrad's tractor factory. The massive outdoor set of Stalingrad's Red Square was built at Krampnitz, near Potsdam. It was a former Wehrmacht riding school that became a Soviet barracks during the Cold War. Set construction began in October 1999 and took almost five months to complete.[7]


The soundtrack to Enemy at the Gates was written by James Horner and released on March 31, 2009.


Based on 137 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 54% approval rating from critics with a weighted average score of 5.7/10. The reviews were summarized as "Atmospheric and thrilling, 'Enemy at the Gates' gets the look and feel of war right. However, the love story seems out of place."[9] Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating, calculated an average score of 53 out of 100, based on 33 reviews.[10]

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four and wrote that it

is about two men placed in a situation where they have to try to use their intelligence and skills to kill each other. When Annaud focuses on that, the movie works with rare concentration. The additional plot stuff and the romance are kind of a shame.[11]

New York Magazine's Peter Ranier was less kind, declaring "It's as if an obsessed film nut had decided to collect every bad war-film convention on one computer and program it to spit out a script."[12] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone admitted the film had faults, but that "any flaws in execution pale against those moments when the film brings history to vital life."[13]

The film was poorly received in Russia.[14] Some Red Army Stalingrad veterans were so offended by inaccuracies in the film and how the Red Army was portrayed that on 7 May 2001, shortly after the film premiered in Russia, they expressed their displeasure in the Duma, demanding a ban of the film, but their request was not granted.[15][16]

The film was also received poorly in Germany. Critics claimed that it simplified history and glorified war.[17][18][19] At the Berlinale film festival, it was booed. Annaud stated afterwards that he would not present another film at Berlinale, calling it a "slaughterhouse" and claiming that his film received much better reception elsewhere.[20][21]

Historical accuracy

Vasily Zaitsev (1915–1991) was a senior sergeant (Russian: ста́рший сержа́нт) in the 2nd Battalion, 1047th Rifle Regiment, 284th Tomsk Rifle Division, during the Battle of Stalingrad.

The film uses events from William Craig's 1973 nonfiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, but it is not a direct adaptation. The book claims that Zaitsev fought his sniper duel over a number of days through the ruins of the city. It was only after killing the German and collecting his identification tags that Zaitsev discovered that he had killed König, the head of the Berlin Sniper School.[22] However, there is no record in the Wehrmacht archives of a sniper named König in the German Army during World War II.[23] Historian Antony Beevor wrote in his 1998 work Stalingrad that he believed Zaitsev's story to be fictional because no such event is mentioned in the detailed daily battle reports sent to Colonel General Aleksandr Shcherbakov in Moscow.[24]

The film also overdramatizes the role of blocking detachments in the Red Army. Although there was Order No. 227 (Russian: Директива Ставки ВГК №227) that became the rallying cry of ("Not a step back!" (Russian: Ни шагу назад!, romanized: Ni shagu nazad!), machine gunners were not placed behind regular troops with orders to kill anyone who retreated. They were used only for penal troops. Detachments were used regularly to prevent withdrawal or desertion by regular troops. As per Order No. 227, each detachment would have between three and five barrier squads per 200 personnel.[25]In the first three months, blocking detachments shot 1,000 penal troops and sent 24,993 to penal battalions. By October 1942, the idea of regular blocking detachments was quietly dropped; by October 1944, the units were officially disbanded.[26][27][28] During the Battle of Stalingrad, the 62nd Army had the most arrests, and executions: 203 in all of which 49 were executed after battle, while 139 were sent to penal companies and battalions.[29][30][31][32]


  1. "ENEMY AT THE GATES (2001)". www.bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  2. "Enemy at the Gates (2001)". En.unifrance.org. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  3. https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b8376a9fd. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. "Enemy at the Gates". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
  5. "Interview with Jean-Jacques Annaud, referenced by Constantin Film". Epilog.de (in German). Archived from the original on 2007-08-18.
  6. "Biography: Vasily Zaitsev". Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia (in Russian).
  7. "Enemy at the Gates". www.cinemareview.com. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  8. "Enemy at the Gates Soundtrack". AllMusic. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  9. "Enemy at the Gates Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  10. "Enemy at the Gates: Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  11. Roger Ebert. "Enemy At The Gates". Chicago Sun-Times.
  12. "Is War Hell, Or What?". New York Magazine.
  13. Peter Travers (2001-03-16). "Enemy at the Gates | Movie Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2013-07-22.
  14. "Stalingrad veterans demand ban of Enemy at the Gates". Lenta.ru. 8 Mar 2001. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  15. "VETERANS UPSET BY WESTERN MOVIE ON STALINGRAD". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  16. "Allesfilm.com – all about film". Allesfilm.com. Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  17. "Duell – Enemy at the Gates". Filmszene.de. 20 August 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  18. "Jean-Jacques Annaud: "Töten ist nie lustig"" (in German). Spiegel.de. Retrieved 2013-07-22.
  19. "Berlinale-Eröffnung: Buhrufe statt Prominenz" (in German). Spiegel.de. Retrieved 2013-07-22.
  20. Russia's War
  21. Nieuwint, Joris (25 September 2015). "The Many Movie Mistakes Of Enemy At The Gates". WAR HISTORY ONLINE. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  22. Beevor, Antony (2007). Stalingrad. Penguin UK. p. 249. ISBN 9780141926100.
  23. Robert, Stephan (1987). "Smersh: Soviet Military Counter-Intelligence during the Second World War". Journal of Contemporary History. 22 (4): 585–613.
  25. Merridale, Catherine (2006). Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939–1945. New York : Metropolitan Books. pp. 158. ISBN 0-8050-7455-4. OCLC 60671899.
  26. Roberts, Geoffrey (2006). Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953. Yale University Press. p. 132. ISBN 0-300-11204-1.
  27. Соколов, Борис (2017-09-05). Чудо Сталинграда (in Russian). Litres. ISBN 9785040049417.
  28. Звягинцев, Вячеслав Егорович (2006). Война на весах Фемиды: война 1941–1945 гг. в материалах следственно-судебных дел (in Russian). Терра. ISBN 9785275013092.
  29. "Исторические документы. Документы особого отдела НКВД Сталинградского фронта". battle.volgadmin.ru. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  30. Reese, Roger (2011). Why Stalin's Soldiers Fought: The Red Army's Military Effectiveness in World War II. University Press of Kansas. p. 164. ISBN 9780700617760.
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