A well-played and vivid war story that misses the point of the titular battle
Russia’s entry to the 2014 Oscar race, and a big hit in the homeland, Stalingrad is a World War II epic less concerned with history than with a smaller, more personal story; five Russian soldiers caught up in the siege take collective responsibility for a lone woman, who will eventually have a child with one of them. It’s not hard to see the analogy about Saving Mother Russia, but Stalingrad’s attempt to mimic the teamwork heroics of Saving Private Ryan is flawed by the lack of detail; even General Von Paulus, a key figure in the siege, barely gets a mention.
Following up his popular hit 9th Company, Fedor Bondarchuk, son of director Sergey, lashes the opening sequences of Stalingrad with CGI, but although the images of burning soldiers charging forward is striking, the set-up of the siege situation is muddled and unclear. Things settle down to a more conventional war story as the action focuses on the city square, where Katya (Mariya Smolnikova) meets five Russian soldiers who vow to protect her. Standing in their way is German officer Khan (King Kong’s Thomas Kretschmann), who is engaged in a controlling relationship with Masha (Yanina Studilina). As the use of deadly snipers and rolling tanks escalates, Khan’s determination to smoke out the resistance becomes an obsession, but the heroic men steadfastly refuse to give in.
If you’re familiar with the historical specifics, Stalingrad is a reasonably engrossing war drama in the style of Days of Glory, well-played and with moments of vivid patriotic spectacle that look like an army recruiting poster come to life. But by ignoring the bigger picture of what the battle of Stalingrad meant to both the Russian and German armies, and the importance of the city within WWII operations, Bondarchuk’s bombast misses the point of the battle.
General release from Fri 21 Feb.