This State-supported Russian 3D IMAX epic comes with plenty of pedigree. It is directed by Fyodor Bondarchuk, son of Sergei Bondarchuk, the director of the Oscar-winning Russian version of War and Peace.
The screenplay is loosely based on a small part of Vasily Grossman's great novel, Life and Fate. Its plot is surprisingly simple, given the scale of the action. Essentially, this is a siege movie. It's the autumn of 1942. Some Russian soldiers, and one very young Russian woman, are holed up in a ruined Stalingrad apartment and pitted against the might of the German army.
The characterisation here isn't subtle. The nationalistic chauvinism (the references to "my great country" and constant invocations of the Russian fighting spirit) is off-putting and the modern-day scenes – in which we see Russians rescuing German tourists from under the rubble after a tsunami – are deeply contrived.
Nonetheless, Bondarchuk doesn't skimp on the widescreen spectacle. At its best, Stalingrad has a visual dynamism and full-blooded quality reminiscent of the best work of Sergio Leone, who tried hard to make his own movie about the siege of Leningrad late in his career.
The production design is extraordinarily detailed. Bondarchuk and his team have gone to exhaustive lengths to recreate the bombed-out city, to its last craters and flakes of ash.
They make very clear the physical discomfort that the soldiers feel. One German officer in his dying throes is still tormented by the lice which he spends much of the film trying to scrub off. The film-makers have also thrown in plenty of Peckinpah-style, slow-motion action sequences, and have used the 3D for maximum effect when it comes to showing bullets and missiles spiraling through buildings.
Nor is Bondarchuk's depiction of the Germans quite as one-dimensional as might have been expected. The most complex character here is the German officer Kahn (Thomas Kretschmann), who begins a destructive relationship with a local woman, and whose strange mix of courage and fatalism matches that of the Russians who are pitted against him.