Russia and America have been at odds for so long that we often forget that there was a time when we were on the same side, coming together against a common foe. Yes, thanks to Hitler, there was a short time when when Russia and America both hated Germany. Saving Private Ryan was America’s epic WWII film. Stalingrad is Russia’s attempt to offer up its own Saving Private Ryan.
Before we delve into the film, it is worth noting that when you pop the disc in, it is automatically set to the English dubbing. Which you don’t notice at first because the German is still in German with subtitles. It’s only when the Russians start talking in very badly dubbed English that you realize what’s going on. Do yourself a favor and make sure you’re watching the proper Russian language version of the film before you hit play.
Stalingrad tells the story of a small band of Russian soldiers, lead by Gromov (Pyotr Fyodorov) attempting to take back the titular city that has already been brutally ravaged by the Germans. The initial attack is mostly a failure and only a handful of Russian soldiers make it into the war-torn city. They take shelter in a dilapidated building across the square from a building where the German’s main army is set up. In their building the Russian soldiers meet a young girl named Katya (Mariya Smolnikova) that they all seem to have a certain affinity for and it becomes more about protecting her than saving Mother Russia.
On the German side we are introduced to Captain Kan (Thomas Kretschmann) who falls for a Russian woman named Masha (Yanina Studilina) who reminds him of his dead wife. He has to rape her a few times, but soon she comes around to liking him, especially when the choice comes down to her rapist or going to a Concentration Camp. So the film follows the building relationships between these soldiers and these women as the chaos of war surrounds them and drives the film to its bloody conclusion.
The strangest parts of Stalingrad are the bookends. The film opens in Japan after the recent massive earthquake and there are several teenage kids trapped under some rubble. A Russian rescue team comes in and the man in charge begins telling them a story to distract them while the crews work to free them. The story is that of how his mother met her “five fathers.” Well, only one of them was his actual father, the rest are more metaphorical fathers. Then as the film ends we find out which of the five guys is really his father and the kids get rescued.
Stalingrad really didn’t need any of this at all. There is more than enough going on in the story; these seemingly tacked on bookends seem totally unnecessary. I guess it justifies the use of voice over throughout the film, and, hey, if Saving Private Ryan could have some pointless and poorly executed bookends, then why couldn’t Stalingrad?
In the end, Stalingrad is a pretty good war movie. It’s not great, but it’s certainly not bad. The story is a little silly, but this was an important point during WWII and it did deserve a film about it, and why not tack on a silly love story to move the plot forward? At times the CGI distracts from the film, but when the men are hunkered down in the destroyed buildings you really get into the era.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround sound. It is in Russian and German with English subtitles. This CGI parts are a little too shiny at times, but otherwise this is a pretty good looking and sounding film. As previously mentioned, the English dubbing is terrible.
You get a Making of: (11min.), it’s a typical making of, not bad.
I wasn’t sure what to think when I say down to watch this, but it turned out to be a pretty good war movie. As Americans, we don’t often see war films where the Russians are the good guys, so that is kinda cool. It uses too much CGI, but other than that, Stalingrad is a perfectly fine war film.
Columbia Pictures presents Stalingrad. Written by: Ilya Tilkin and Sergey Snezhkin. Directed by: Fedor Bondarchuk. Starring: Pyotr Fyodorov, Sergey Bondarchuk, Jr., Thomas Kretschmann, Maria Smolnikova and Yanina Studilina. Running time: 131 minutes. Rating: R. Released: May 13, 2014.