Stalingrad (1993) Movie Review

The predicament for German filmmakers who want to tackle World War II is this: how do you make a movie, with heroes and such, about a historical period when your country was out slaughtering anyone and everyone who wasn’t part of their “great white race”? The movie “Stalingrad” answers that question by tackling the dilemma head on, and instead of heroes we have anti-heroes. Does it work? Answer: Every now and then, but not always.

The background to 1993′s “Stalingrad” is the Battle of Stalingrad, a brutal 2-year fight for Russia’s most important city that claimed millions of lives, soldiers and civilians. Hoping to choke off the Russian Army and take Russia, Hitler makes a hard push to destroy Stalingrad, throwing everything he has at to achieve this end. But the Russians also know the value of Stalingrad, and Stalin throws everything including the kitchen sink at the invading Germans. (For the Russian perspective on this battle, see “Enemy at the Gates.”)

Instead of focusing on the war plans and tactics of the battle, “Stalingrad” does the wise thing and decides to follow a small company of soldiers instead. When we first meet Reiser, Rohleder, and Muller they are in the comparable paradise of occupied Italy. Shipped off to join the Russian front, the trio brings along a fresh-faced Lieutenant who hails from a family of distinguished soldiers. At Stalingrad, whatever order or loyalty the soldiers brought with them immediately disintegrates, until half of the company is deserting and the other half are dying from the winter climate.

To watch “Stalingrad”, you would think the German Army has no semblance of loyalty at all among its ranks. While I am not an expert on German military matters, I’m hardpressed to believe that the soldiers in “Stalingrad” can be so overtly disrespectful and lacking in protocol. Besides openly calling their new Lieutenant every name in the book to his face, the soldiers seem hesitant to follow any type of orders at all. With soldiers like these, how the heck did the Germans nearly conquer the world 60 years ago?

Also, there isn’t the epic feel you would expect from a movie of this massive budget. There is really only one major battle scene, which takes place early in the film and lasts for about 15 minutes, but even that battle doesn’t exactly meet the criteria of “large scale.” Later on, there’s a tank battle on a frozen landscape, but I am completely at a loss to understand the strategy or tactic of that particular battle, and as a result it seemed rather superfluous.

Like a lot of War Movies, “Stalingrad” has its share of “War is Hell” moments, like a body shredded in half by mortar fire and soldiers losing control of their bowels during battle. But compared to the physical and emotional havoc of movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line”, “Stalingrad” comes across as rather tame. After the film’s first battle scene, the rest of the movie is a series of seemingly random occurrences where the company slowly but surely degrades into unwilling soldiers and, ultimately, deserters.

I mentioned that the German filmmakers have decided to tackle the infamy of the German army during World War II. Unfortunately this also leads to one problem: the movie makes the mistake of portraying brutal German officers committing various war crimes as too cartoonish. These characters mind as well have “evil” written on their foreheads for all the subtlety the film offers them. I understand the need to accept and show German brutality during World War II, but even the very American “Band of Brothers” showed German soldiers in a more even light. I half expected “Stalingrad’s” evil Germans to sprout hooves, horns, and exchange their Lugers for pitchforks.

There is a lot to like about “Stalingrad”, but it’s not much of a war movie, I’m afraid. There are too many broad strokes and unbelievable situations. The characters’ interactions with the Russians are also a little hard to swallow. During a prisoner exchange one night, a German and Russian soldier exchange food for some reason. Later, a Russian female soldier who has been tied up in a German officer’s hideout and repeatedly used as a sex toy decides she can let go of that whole rape thing and lead a group of German deserters through Russian lines. Yeah, okay, whatever.

“Stalingrad” is most ineffective when it tries too hard to embrace its German past. Had the film stuck to looking at the war and the battle for Stalingrad from a low-level grunt’s POV, it would have been much more successful. Because the soldiers we’re following are front line men, there’s not even a need to show obvious German war crimes. Whenever we do see German officers acting “villainous”, one can’t shake the feeling that we’ve taken a detour from the film’s main story.

Joseph Vilsmaier (director) / Jurgen Buscher, Johannes Heide, Joseph Vilsmaier (screenplay)
CAST: Dominique Horwitz …. Fritz Reiser
Thomas Kretschmann …. Leutnant Hans von Witzland
Jochen Nickel …. Manfred Rohleder
Sebastian Rudolph …. GeGe Muller
Dana Vavrova …. Irina


Buy Stalingrad on DVD



About Nix

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Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.

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  • steve donovan

    yeah whatever! i love the movie. its even better if you know the history as well.

  • Chris Sanna

    I agree the guy who wrote this is and idiot. he said in the tank battle the soldier was cut in half by a mortor. hehe It was the tank behind him that shot a high velocity round not designed for soldiers at the soldier. There was never and mortors in the whole movie………This was a great movie! Thats all. A german movie producer that tried to depict the horrors of war and how alot of germans soldiers where employed. Not crazy lunitics just doing there job, When there job asked too much of them. They defected…..great movie!

  • Stuntmanonfire

    maybe you should watch pinnochio if you dont understand some scene of the movie…..Open a history book and you understand better

  • http://twitter.com/NicoG87 NicoG

    Hello!

    The tank battle later on takes place while the main group of soldiers we’re following is “serving” in a Strafbattalion after the events at the “hospital” where Fritz Reiser tried to threaten a German doctor/medic into treating their comrade.

    While the skirmish seems rather pointless in the movie itself, and is pretty much taken out of context, I think the main vision of the director was to show what kind of action Strafbattalions witnessed on the Eastern Front. As one of the soldiers points out, it’s pretty much a suicide mission and is reminiscent of the ambush the Rangers set up in the final battle of Saving Private Ryan when Reiben drives off on a motorbike trying to draw German forces into the ruins of the city.

    The difference here is that no one actually attempted to draw the Soviet forces towards their anti-tank gun, they basically just sat in their holes waiting in case a few Soviet tanks breaks off from the column and drives in their direction.

    In the movie, it might seem unrealistic that this actually happened, but the Soviet advances in that time period was mainly about encirclement maneuvers and for all we know the Soviet tank column had a larger target past the position of the Strafbatallion we’re following, and that the tanks that broke away were simply attempting an encirclement of regular German troops further away.

    Regarding the exchange of foods, I find this to be plausible as well. Both sides faced a lack of rations and neither side had proper, reliable supply routes due to the heavy fighting outside the center of the city. According to various sources, incidents of soldiers eating parts of horses who had frozen to death or killed because of illness due to lack of food and water, did in fact happen.

    The name-calling of the lieutenant makes very much sense. As everywhere else at the time, there were clear class diversions in Nazi Germany. The lieutenant was basically the equivalent of a fresh-out-of West Point type officer replacement in the US army, trying to mix in with battle-hardened veterans. Of course there is discontent.

    “After the film’s first battle scene, the rest of the movie is a series of seemingly random occurrences where the company slowly but surely degrades into unwilling soldiers and, ultimately, deserters”. This is EXACTLY what happened during the later stages in the battle of Stalingrad. It was literally a complete chaos beyond the regular Landser’s comprehension. Basically every small scale operation or skirmish was completely random once the fighting started inside Stalingrad itself. It was a random of serious events and occurrences for the soldiers fighting in Stalingrad, so why shouldn’t it be in the movie?

    Also, the battle of Stalingrad lasted for around six months, not two years as you describe. The city was absolutely not Russia’s most important city, far from it. It just presented the Soviet army a great chance to encircle an enormous amount of German soldiers and bleed the enemy to death. I’d even go as far as to say that Stalingrad itself was more important for Hitler than it was for Stalin.

    The fact you even mention ‘Enemy at the Gates’ in the same context as ‘Stalingrad’ is beyond me.

    You should absolutely have read Anthony Beevor’s ‘Stalingrad’ before watching this movie or at least before reviewing it. It just seem that you know a great deal about the battle or what the soldiers at the Eastern Front went through. It just seems like a random movie review written by a person without much second-hand knowledge.