Published on August 20th, 2008 | by Chris5
I’m not even sure how to begin with (or end, or even put the stuff in the middle of) this review. On the one hand, Stalingrad is a stark depiction of what it must have been like during the battle of the same name. Full of vivid, graphic, and disturbing imagery, it paints a depressing picture, and rightly so. Not only in the production and effects, but the main characters, a squad of Germans, themselves get torn apart, inside and out, until the very end.
On the other hand, I found the film lacking in a few respects. The characters themselves don’t seem to have much personality at all. The one exception might be the company Lieutenant, Witzland (Thomas Kretschmann.) He is the epitome of the man thrust into the heart of an evil situation, trying hopelessly to do the right thing, and it winds up the method of his destruction….
The squad is sent off to Stalingrad early on, Rohleder (Jochen Nickel), Muller (Sebastian Rudolph) and the rest think this will be the proverbial walk in the park, shouting at the Russian farmers from the train. They are, of course, in for a surprise.
They are thrust into the battle, and wind up in the typical standoff. They agree to a temporary cease-fire to get their wounded, and of course that goes terribly wrong, and they wind up capturing a few Russians, including a young boy. These guys seem to be a lot like them in most respects. They wind up in a lot of situations like this that prove typical in war movies. Whether or not they are reflective of actual events, these are the types of events we are shown. Nasty decisions have to be made, cruelties delivered, things done that under any circumstances would blacken your soul.
Maybe if I hadn’t already seen the documentary on Stalingrad first, and didn’t know what to expect it would have been a lot more compelling, shocking, and disturbing. But as is usually the case, the truth is stranger, and darker and more evil than fiction. I already had a picture in my mind of what these situations must’ve been like, and while this film went a long way towards realizing that, as dark and gritty as it was, it just didn’t seem to measure up.
I found the first 2/3 to be mostly mechanical in that respect. However, as the squad is unable to make the last plane out, their situation enters a surreal nightmare from which there is no return. And *then* the film really starts to get interesting, and really quite good. The real madness begins when they intercept a supply drop before the commander (who has been a thorn in Witzland’s side) can get to them. They wind up killing the officer, who informs them in desparation of his own personal stash.
They briefly escape the cold and starvation into a horde of supplies and relative luxury, and find a Russian woman prisoner, which the German officers have been using for less-than-honorable purposes. They free her, and as they share in their final moments of desparation and sadness, you really get a feel for what this picture is ultimately about.
It’s about the waste and destruction and senseless loss of life that was put upon the city then, and which you’ll find in any war. It’s also a damning indictment of the Nazi regime, from the eyes of the soldiers who were forced to fight under it, whether or not they subscribed to that whole philosophy, which this squad did not.
I may as well spoil it for you. Nobody makes it out alive, whether by choice, by bullet, by painful degradation or simply freezing to death. The final scene with the two men frozen solid in the field is a heart-wrenching one, and sums it all up perfectly.
Nothing good came out of Stalingrad. In reality I mean. The only good thing to come out of this movie is a more-or-less accurate depiction of what it must have been like to be there. I can’t say I enjoyed it, if you can even call it that, but it was certainly an interesting ride, especially the stark and surreal ending “act”.
I wouldn’t put Stalingrad on the same level as classics like Saving Private Ryan or other films lauded as “World War II Classics” though, as some have done. I don’t know, to me, accuracy and realism doesn’t necessarily mean a superb war film. I’m sure I’ll draw some grief for that, but I just didn’t like as much as a lot of people do.
Here’s a clip from one of the more engaging battle scenes.
(Oh, and the guy with the wooden arm kept reminding me of the guy from Young Frankenstein. I could *not* get that out of my head, after he adjusts his arm a few times, you’ll see what I mean!)
It’s tempting to call this harrowing picture a World War II version of All Quiet on the Western Front: both films take the perspective of ordinary German soldiers at ground level. Stalingrad surveys the misery of the battle of Stalingrad, the winter siege that cost the lives of almost one and a half million people, Russian defenders and German invaders alike…
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Manufacturer: Fox Lorber
Original Release Date:
- Dominique Horwitz
- Thomas Kretschmann
- Sebastian Rudolph
- Dana Vávrová
- Jochen Nickel
Summary: Stalingrad is a stark depiction of what it must have been like during the battle of the same name. Full of vivid, graphic, and disturbing imagery, it paints a depressing picture, and rightly so.