Rated: R for sequences of war violence. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: February 28, 2014 Released by: Columbia Pictures
An immersive 3D war picture (the first for Russia along with use of the IMAX format) seems to favor set design and eye-popping effects over storytelling and characterizations.
A heavy-handed Stalingrad (fully subtitled with marginal clarity) stars Pyotr Fyodorov, Thomas Kretschmann, Mariya Smolnikova and Yanina Studilina as it's bookended by a Russian first responder during the recent Japanese tsunami to give exposition to his "five fathers" including Fyodorov's charmingly, intent Capt. Gromov.
This tale of epic catastrophe doesn't burn with thought in the costliest battle in human history set in the fall of 1942 during the middle of a German siege with firefight advances as their enemy brought reinforcements over the Volga River.
Helmer Fedor Bondarchuk centers on the soldiers under Capt. Gromov finding sanctuary in a key building where young adult Katya (Smolnikova) is also hiding after an incendiary interlude. While the officers take a liking to Katya they have to fend off Kretchmann's conflicted, even cruel Capt. Kahn who's been affected by a Russian lady (Studilina) in a kind of doomed romance.
Even with a steamy ferocity and viscosity about the production with Angelo Badalamenti's orchestral sonorous maneuvers there's something dubious and generational about the narrative elements and drive even as the characters begin to open up before another massive set-piece unfolds. The muscular way with some of the action sequences should be riveting for the desired demographic, notably a flaming advance by Russians after a huge blast with an allegorical, underworld feel.
It's nice to see the allure disparately by Smolnikova (especially around an impromptu party as her suitors learn a little more about her personal life) and Studilina but they pale in comparison to the nuance at least an involving Kretchmann projects into the struggling, fiercely torn Kahn. Stalingrad has a nationalistic surge but not the insightful examination into a once grandly thriving, bombed-out metropolis.