As others have stated here what we though we were going to get with this film was finally an epic film about the battle of Stalingrad on the scale of the likes of A Bridge Too Far – Unfortunately of the three big budgeted movies made of this battle (The other two being the somewhat mishandled Enemy At The Gates and the Excellent German Stalingrad film) this is the worst, which is a shame as it had so much potential.
A group of Russian soldiers find themselves hanging onto a junction house blocking the way to the river which they must defend at all costs, and the Germans occupy the street across from them and continually fail to take it. The Russians all fall for the same girl, Katya, who is the only civilian survivor in the house. The German semi-senior officer (Kretchman) finds himself falling for a Russian woman who reminds him of his dead wife. After a promising start the film settles into over stated Russian melodrama with a huge intrusive score bashing its way into almost every scene making the moments in the film when its actually needed less effective. The film is narrated by the off spring of one of the main characters but I can’t but wonder if this was an after thought to actually fill in for the lack of character that everyone seems to possess. Any real meant to fill out the characters bones is really missing from the script and while the acting is not at fault here the blame must lay with the writing and over concept here. True, by this time in the war, men are reduced to all but shadows of their former selves and having them revealed to be more human in fragile moments works at times and is one of the films few strengths but its not enough to save the film from being predictable, hollow and at times frankly boring.
What is out standing about the film is the VFX and Production design which is really first rate. The costumes and details of the period are incredibly accurate and everyone looks like they have been through several years of war already. the look of the film feels great but this cannot save the films many weak points. The Germans are all fairly one dimensional bad guys while the Russians are a little more redeemable but most of their back story always comes in the form of narration and not in their actual actions or dialogue. Some of the characters are a little more interesting than others but on the whole they’re a pretty forgettable bunch. The big ending is rather an anti climax and there is no real pay off other than we know someone survived and had a kid who went on to tell the tale of their five fathers, being five characters in this film. (Even though at one point there’s clearly six but never mind!)
The battle itself isn’t put into any kind of historical context in the film in terms of the impact it had on the war or the change of history that followed. I mean this might as well have taken place in Kharkov or Rostov, save for the shots of the river, it really could have been anywhere, but we’re reminded its Stalingrad because of some statues.
Films like A Bridge Too Far, The Longest Day and even the Historically inaccurate but far more watchable Battle Of The Bulge work because they tell the story of a large sweeping battle from beginning to end with and still manage to keep you interested with real characters and interesting moments. Here we have a film that can’t make up its mind if its an action film or a love story – it tries to be both and succeeds at neither.
A shameful waste as the talent was clearly there.