Netflix UK / Blu-ray film review: Stalingrad
Philip W Bayles | On 23, Jun 2014
Director: Fedor Bondarchuk
Cast: Petr Fedorov, Dmitriy Lysenkov, Thomas Kretschmann, Yanina Studilina
Watch Stalingrad online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Eircom / Virgin Movies / EE / TalkTalk
Filmed not just for IMAX, but for IMAX 3D, Fedor Bondarchuk’s Stalingrad is a strange paradox of a movie. Bondarchuk has clearly tried to pay homage to the legacy o fRussian war movies that stretches as far back as Sergei Eisenstein’s Batteship Potemkin. But, bizarrely, he’s also decided to take a leaf or two from Michael Bay’s book. The result is an uneven, tonally jarring mess.
For those who didn’t pay attention in history, the Battle of Stalingrad was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Second World War, where Russian and Nazi soldiers fought tooth and nail, street by street, to gain control of one of the USSR’s most important cities.
Not that many of them get a word in. In the middle of all of this conflict, five soldiers find themselves holed up in a strategically vital building, becoming (it seems) the only line of defence from Nazi victory. It’s a strange kind of “OOrah” setup, one that isn’t helped by the fact that our heroes are drawn from the most blank and clichéd of slates. There’s the bland and stoic leader (Fedorov); the sniper who cracks bad jokes (Lysenkov); the timid one who actually ends up being nicknamed “Sissy” (Sergey Bondarchuk); and two hulking older ones who are so boring as to be completely interchangeable. They have about three lines of dialogue to share.
The Nazis, meanwhile, are firmly entrenched in the ridiculous end of the spectrum; their leader (Heiner Lauterbach) feels more like a Saturday morning cartoon villain. And then there’s Captain Khan (Kretschmann), whose change of heart following his infatuation with a blonde Russian woman called Masha (Studilina) is handled about as subtly as a freight train carrying an atom bomb. “Look at the beast before you,” he soliloquizes, after raping his newfound love.
The poor handling of that subplot is typical of the movie’s presentational problems as a whole. From the opening shots of tired, bloodied Russians seemingly walking across the Volga to the huge, hand-built (and impressively-detailed) sets, covered in ash, it feels like Fedor has gone to great lengths to show the hellish conditions the soldiers would have faced in 1942. But it’s hard to take him seriously when, in the very next scene, a hilariously bad CGI bomber crashes into the middle of the scene like a sperm whale in a Douglas Adams novel. Every single fight scene is ramped up to 11; bullets and blood fly in that curious blend of slow-mo and sped up action that Zack Snyder seems to love – as, bizarrely, is the aforementioned assault scene. “War is hell,” the director seems to say, “but it’s also kinda awesome!”
It’s a real shame that there aren’t more nice things to say about this movie. Cinema is becoming more multicultural all the time and we should give more exposure to big-budget blockbusters that come from non-English speaking territories. But although Fedor Bondarchuk has made good use of his new and expensive toys, the film he made with them is too immature to grant him a seat at the grown-ups’ table.
The Blu-Ray edition of Stalingrad has slim pickings to offer: a paltry handful of trailers for films and a short and shallow “Making of” featuring interviews with the cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage.
Stalingrad is available to watch on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.