John’s Review of Stalingrad

Review written by John McGinn

Russian actor, director and writer Fedor Bondarchuk with his film Stalingrad the director wanted to pay respect to the greatest victory in Russian history, and one of the greatest battle, and turning points in world history as well as inspiring the Russian people, and in large part Bondarchuk was hugely successful creating a vivid battlefield that pays respect to the Russian people and soldiers who died during the long siege/battle with intense battle sequences, amazing visuals that would rival any Hollywood production, great acting, and beautiful music that was only held back by an unnecessary romance, and some overly melodramatic, flawed directing and writing that keeps Stalingrad from going down as a great war film.

History of the human race spans thousands of years, but there are certain events, and battles that truly mark an important moment in history that shifts events in one direction or the other like Battle of Marathon, The English defeat of the Spanish Armada cementing England’s place in the world for the next three hundred years, and the decline of the Spanish Empire. Then we have the Civil War battle of Antietam which was perhaps the biggest defeat for the Confederacy as well as keeping European powers from recognizing the south as an independent nation. Next is Napoleon’s devastating loss in the battle of Waterloo that would change the map, and course of history in Europe and the world. Those are just a few of the key moments in history which brings us to the siege/battle of Stalingrad. Up until the decision to invade Russia, and the battle of Stalingrad Germany was undefeatable, and it looked like Germany was going win the second World War creating the Germanic Empire, and if not for the prolonged battle in Stalingrad and eventual defeat by the Russians Germany would have succeeded even with the intervention of the United States. Russia doesn’t get enough by the general public for turning the tide of the war, and make no mistake Russia did turn the tide of WWII by not giving up not surrounding in the face of overwhelming odds the Russian soldiers, and ordinary people fought street to street, and neighborhood to neighborhood giving their lives to stop the German advance changing the course of history.

Surprisingly there has been only one major film the battle of Stalingrad in the terrific Enemy of the Gates. With Bondarchuk we don’t get the western Hollywood perspective, but the Russian perspective of the battle with the original script written by Ilya Tilkin and Sergey Snezhkin who with their script were obviously inspired by western directors like Steven Speilberg and Zach Synder. For the most part the writing is pretty well done as the film has us following a group of Russian soldiers who get stranded on the Stalingrad side of the Volga river after the Russian siege to give reinforce Russian troops was soundly defeated, but band of ragtag Russian soldiers to manage to take house, and landing point for future Russian incursions into the city to reinforce, and drive out the German army. Just the few hundred feet is the German command and Captain Hauptmann Kahn played exceptionally well by Thomas Kretschmann who begin to try and drive out the Russians.

The biggest flaws to the script with the first being the inclusions of two romances. One involving Captain Kahn and a Russian civilian was well written, and beautifully portrayed by the two actors. The other involving another Russian civilian who’s found in the house the Russian soldiers are staying felt forced, and I didn’t see any real chemistry between the actress and the other actors. The other problem with the script was the two writer’s decision to go overboard with the melodrama that includes the romance, and things like characters standing up from behind cover and screaming at each other which was surprising since the characters are in the middle of a battle getting shot at as well as some poorly written dialog that seemed not to fit the scenes of the film like in one scene about shooting a German soldier who was just getting water. It just didn’t sense, and wasn’t needed in the film. I’m not sure why the writers and directors decided to take these approaches with the film, but they certainly weren’t needed for the film or could have been honed better to fit the film. Stalingrad could easily stand on its own without a poorly done romance and melodrama taking away from what otherwise was an exceptional film.

The acting by the unknown at least to me Russian actors is really well done. The actors bring emotion and depth to their characters, and they each have their moments in the spotlight. Unfortunately I don’t know all the actors names, but perhaps the highlight of the Russian actors was Captain Gromov played by Pyotr Fyodorov who was the star of the film, and stole virtually every scene he was in. I’ve been a fan of the German actor Thomas Kretschmann since I first saw him in U-571. The actor gives depth and charisma to each role he performance as he was one of the only bright spots in Peter Jackson’s mediocre and overrated King Kong film as Captain Englehorn. Kretchmann will next get his chance to shine in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron as Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. Here in Stalingrad, Kretchmann plays the conflicted soul of Captain Hauptmann Kahn who believes in the German cause up to a point, and ends up falling in love with a Russian woman whom he is willing to sacrifice his soul for.

Before now I had no idea that there has never been a film made outside of the United States filmed in the IMAX format, but apparently up until Stalingrad there never had been a film made in IMAX outside the United States. Apparently Greg Foster the head of the company was so inspired by the brief scenes that director Fedor Bondarchuk showed him that Foster immediately allowed Bondarchuk to film Stalingrad in the IMAX format, and it from watching Stalingrad the film deserved to be filmed using that format. The action sequences were beautifully done and would make Zach Snyder proud. The opening battle is just breathtaking as the Russian soldiers try to take the beach head mixing in the imagery of flames, war and death. Just like Snyder with his films 300 and The Watchmen Bondarchuk beautifully brings to life the battles of the film mixing in slow motion to add effect, and depth to the scenes.

Sadly Hollywood avoids certain wars and battles that are could be goldmines, and Oscar winners. One of those is the battle of Stalingrad which outside of Enemy at the Gates has been completely ignored by Hollywood. Director Fedor Bondarchuk tries to bring us a great epic World War II film about one of the greatest battles in history, and he mostly does with Hollywood styled visuals aided by IMAX that will blow viewers away, some exceptional acting, great action and effects, and a moving score. Unfortunately I think Bondarchuk may have tried too hard to be like a Hollywood blockbuster in that he relied more on the battles and effects over story and dialog. Bondarchuk’s Stalingrad could have been on the level if not better than Enemy at the Gates if the director concentrated more on honing the script and dialog to create a better product, but that is what could have been. What we get in Stalingrade is a summer blockbuster quality film that will make a ton of money, but won’t win any awards, and doesn’t do true justice to the scope and events of the siege/battle of Stalingrad.

4 out of 5 Stars

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