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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 shephard from the Urals press-ganged into serving in the Battle of Stalingrad during the German invasion of the 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.

Tropes used in Enemy at the Gates include:
  • Adaptational Attractiveness
  • Affably Evil: Major Erwin König, especially when dealing with Sacha.
  • And Now for Something Completely Different: The book the movie is based off of is a non-fiction book following well over twenty individuals, including Hitler. 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.
  • Anti-Villain: Major König.
  • 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.
    • Played straight in a particularly horrifying manner in the book.
  • 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.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Law and Weisz played real people but both Major König and the main plot are now believed to be inventions of Soviet wartime propagandists.
  • Blue Eyes: König. Annaud said in the commentary that a big part of why he cast Ed Harris was because of his icy, unusually blue eyes. Vasili also has blue eyes, but his are more of the innocent, good-guy variety.
  • Boom! Headshot!: Many examples, as this is the most full-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-Blooded Torture: Khoulikov’s teeth were torn out with a hammer by the government for being in Germany when the war broke out despite being ordered to go there.
  • 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.
  • Commissar: Danilov. Subverted, he is a fairly nice person - although his power does corrupt him enough to tempt him to use it to Murder the Hypotenuse because of jealousy in a Love Triangle.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to most American war movies, especially World War II ones. On the other hand, many Russians found it entirely too light-hearted for a movie set in the darkest hours of the Great Patriotic War.
  • Good Is Not Nice
  • Hit Scan: König's "impossible shot" is literally that, since with travel time accounted for he'd have had to fire before he could even see Koulikov.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol

  Krushchev: "I have to report to The Boss. Shall we cut through the red tape?"


  Konig: (regarding Vasily) He's not dead, because I haven't killed him.

  • Pretty Little Headshots: There is no way that a rifle of that caliber would create a small hole in someone's head and nothing more.
    • Truth be told, though, most of the headshots are little, but not pretty - heads don't pop like overripe melons, but there's plenty of Pink Mist.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Many critics loudly protested the presence of a love story between Jude Law and Rachel Weisz in the movie, which they felt was an unnecessary 'Hollywood' addition to the gritty sniper duel action. Actually, the love story is probably closer to what really happened than the sniper duel.
    • The General being given a pistol at the beginning of the film by Commissar Krushchev for failing to hold the city. The General shoots himself to avoid having to explain it to Stalin. Great scene. Gen. Andrei Yeremenko, the first General in charge of the defence, planned the defence with Krushchev himself, was relieved by a replacement he himself chose (Chuikov), posted to a different front to fight off Erich von Manstein, and eventually died in 1970 after many years of further decorated service. Why? His plan to deny German armoured superiority by sinking it into the carcass of the city was approved by Stalin. As long as Red Army commanders explained their tactics and strategies to him, Stalin never punitively executed a Red Army commander, even if the strategy failed. Hitler, on the other hand...
  • Redemption Equals Death: Danilov exposes himself to draw out König, as one final act of friendship towards Vasily, after trying to destroy his image with the Soviets.
  • Reds with Rockets
  • Sniper Duel: What the plot and center of the action is.
  • Take a Third Option: "Give them hope. Here the men's only choices are between German bullets and ours. But there is another way - a way of courage. A way of love of the Motherland".
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Krushchev wants his soldiers to "Stop! Shitting! Their Pants!"
  • Those Wacky Nazis
  • Translation Convention : An amusing one, with the Soviets speaking in British English and the Germans in American English.
    • Even more amusing when you realize that IRL 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.
    • Inaccurate in cases, as soviets had guns and unless you were in a penal battalion you weren't given suicidal attacks for no advantage. Actually penal betallions got the most dangerous shit but it wasnt suicidal blind charging.
      • Actually, Soviet soldiers were expected to shoot themselves rather than be taken prisoner; the book outlines the case wear one was taken by the Germans and couldn't return to Russia for fear of imprisonment.
  • Urban Warfare: Both in the film and in the Real Life events it depicts.
  • The Uriah Gambit: When Danilov makes a point to put Vasily on the front lines during the German offensive.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Besides the Based On A Great Big Lie main plot, other liberties were taken.
    • The film makes a common error in western popular 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 seperated from Zaitsev. 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 Zaitsev 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 Zaitsev.
      • In a sickeningly ironic twist, Tania had also been wounded by a landmine on an assassination mission, and Zaitsev 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.
  • 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."
  • War Is Hell : Despite the above quote by Danilov and pals. After all, it's the freaking Battle of Stalignrad...
  • World War II
  • You Have Failed Me: Khrushchev: "I have to report you to the boss. Perhaps you prefer to avoid the red tape." In this case, this done by the good guys, as Deliberate Values Dissonance.
  • 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.
    • Also Danilov decided not to turn it in didn't he ?
      • There's a deleted scene where Danilov tries to, but one of the other commissars bluntly tells him that it's not the right time, given how they're under attack and all.
    • Played straight when Khrushchev hands a gun to an officer that has failed to achieve a mission.