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We open in Japan. It is 2011 and the country has just been rocked by a tragically known earthquake. The German backpackers are caught under the rubble and a Russian peacekeeper tells them a yarn to keep their minds occupied. The story is about his mother and five men who protected her, the men he calls his fathers. Thus we go back to 1942, STALINGRAD, where one apartment block is a final bastion between the German troopers and Volga river. There are five desperate men in the house and they are ready to fight to the end. But there’s someone else they want to protect. Its nineteen year old girl Katya who they all had fallen in love with. A dramatic stand begins. But do we really care?
STALINGRAD has a great production values. Shot on crazy by Russian standards 30 million dollar budget it had an IMAX, 3D release and is a visual and technological achievement indeed. It is a great action film with lots of air shots, explosions, shooting and plane crashes. But unfortunately underneath it proposes no substance.
The problem is the story. We know too much from the very beginning. We know that the soldiers will sacrifice themselves for Katya and Katya will survive. Therefore intrigue is almost absent. The other problem is with the characters themselves. The love stricken soldiers are an unlikable bunch and Katya herself, apart from being the only female among them, lacks charisma. We are being told she is a survivor, she is a person of a strong character, but the script doesn’t allow her to prove any of these statements.
The same goes for the rest of the characters. A narrator, whose preaching tone is a little annoying, tells us short stories about the men’s past lives before the war but do we really want to know? Who cares who they had been. The way they behave right now gets them no sympathy. In this department our heroes are easily upstaged by villainous Nazi commander, who has his own reasons to wage war, and it is not to win it for Hitler. His story line is surprisingly developed in comparison to the saint protagonists, which have already risen some eyebrows with Russian film-critics.
Fedor Bondarchuk is from a great film dynasty. He is a talented director and his previous film UNIT 9 about the war in Afghanistan deserves praise it was given five or so years ago. Unfortunately STALINGRAD missed the mark completely. It is a big budget B rated movie with incredible visuals but mediocre acting and bad writing. Grossly underdeveloped and totally lacking originality it raises a question why it was made on the first place.