Stalingrad (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner19/02/2014

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 131 mins

Russia's first IMAX 3D movie is an engaging war thriller with spectacular special effects, exciting action sequences and strong performances, though the story-telling is a little heavy-handed in places and the characters are frustratingly under-developed.

What’s it all about?
Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk, Stalingrad is a $30 million Russian production that is both loosely based on Vasiliy Grossman's novel Life And Fate and inspired by the real-life fate of the strategically-positioned historical building known as Pavlov's House. During the German army's bloody siege of Stalingrad in 1942, a group of Russian soldiers - fresh-faced youth Astakhov (Sergei Bondarchuk Jr), grizzled Polyakov (Andrey Smokyakov), wise-cracking Chvanov (Dmitriy Lysenkov) and mute singer Nikiforov (Alexey Barabash) - led by heroic Captain Gromov (Pyotr Fyodorov) hole up in an apartment building and stage a last-ditch attempt to halt the progress of the Nazis, led by Captain Kahn (Thomas Kretschmann).

The group's resolve is strengthened further when they search one of the apartments and discover Katya (Mariya Smolnikova), an 18 year old girl who refuses to leave the building. Meanwhile, Kahn finds himself under pressure from his commanding officer (Georges Devdariani) and seeks solace in the arms of Masha (Yana Studilina), a beautiful local girl who has been shunned by her neighbours thanks to Kahn's attentions.

The Good
Fyodorov is excellent as the charismatic leader faced with an impossible task and there's strong support from Lysenkov and Barabash, while Smolnikova and Studilina both deliver moving performances as Katya and Masha. Similarly, Kretschmann (who also starred in 1993's Stalingrad) is extremely effective in his role, bringing a level of humanity to Kahn that kicks against the standard Nazi captain clichés.

However, the main reason to see the film is the spectacular special effects sequences, most notably the aftermath of a gigantic explosion, in which Russian soldiers continue to mount a ferocious attack on their enemies despite being engulfed in flames, as if emerging from the very depths of hell. In addition, Bondarchuk stages a number of exciting action sequences and there are several touching character moments, most notably the soldiers throwing Katya an impromptu party when they discover it's her 19th birthday.

The Bad
The main problem with the film is that its story-telling is a little too heavy-handed in places, not least in a rather clumsy framing device set in tsunami-ravaged present-day Japan, where an aging Russian rescue worker tells a group of trapped German teenagers the (somewhat inappropriate and grisly) story of his mother Katya and his "five fathers" (which sounds dodgier than they probably intended). In addition, despite the likeable performances, the characters feel reduced to single character traits, while the stirring levels of heroism and a couple of fun but unlikely incidents give the film the slightly uncomfortable flavour of a propaganda piece.

Worth seeing?
Though not quite as emotionally engaging as it should have been, Stalingrad is an impressively staged war thriller whose spectacular special effects deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 14/12/2017 08:03

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