Look, I’m just not ready for the 90s aesthetic to make a comeback. Mostly because, stylistically, that decade sucked balls.
Know what I mean:
Grunge was overrated (no, I didn’t stutter), Reservoir Dogs isn’t as good as you remember, and that blowjob Bill Clinton got in the White House sounds worse and worse by the day. Except for gangsta rap and West Coast Hip Hop, nothing in the 90s worked.
So let’s allow Nicole Brown Simpson to Rest In Peace, and we’ll move on with our lives and forget that an entire decade happened.
While we’re at it, we’ll do the same for the 2000s. And BAM, just like that, 20 years of American history are gone
Most nights I can’t sleep. Most nights I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about a film. Usually, it’s not a great film that’s keeping me up. It’s a film that could have been great, but everyone fucked up.
One such movie is Enemy at the Gates (2001).
It’s a shame. This movie could have been dope. So what happened?
Now forgive me, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve watched it so I won’t go into plot details. But the screenwriters shouldn’t have committed to telling a love story AND a game of cat and mouse.
Individually these stories could have been interesting on their own. The Battle of Stalingrad was such a test of the human spirit that it provides an interesting backdrop to any story.
But Enemy at the Gates falls victim to a very serious problem…a problem that plagued so, so many movies of the era: it tries to have it both ways. It wants to be a gritty war film AND appeal to 90s sentimentality.
“But it’s based on a real historical account,” you might say.
And lo and behold, this is largely true. Of course, it takes a few creative liberties. I doubt Joseph Fiennes’ character was real. Same with Ron Perlman’s…a character that I hated so much because it seems to have been included for expositional purposes only. Because the film takes such liberties…it is a movie after all, and not a documentary…then pick a lane.
If I were making this movie, I would have focused exclusively on the chase between Ed Harris and Jude Law. But there’s no sense in crying over spilled milk.
Enemy at the Gates appears to have been one of the last of the so-called “90s, mediocre, sentimental historical dramas.” I don’t hate all of these movies. In fact, I go to bat for perhaps the greatest example of this genre: Dances With Wolves.
“Can you believe that Kevin Costner beat Martin Scorsese at the Oscars?” everyone says to me.
No. That’s not surprising at all. Have you seen the movie? I will pound the table every chance I get: Kevin Costner DESERVED his Oscar.
Quote me on that.
Honestly, as much as it pains me to say this, if there’s a flaw with the movie, it’s the screenplay. That’s a big one. This might not have been obvious to audiences then, but it’s clear 32 years later. BUT, it appears to me that Costner was involved in the project from the moment of its inception, so the script was suited to his strengths.
Could anyone else have made Dances With Wolves?
And here’s where Costner excels: every character…EVERY last character…has their moment, however brief, to shine. When Stone Calf is killed, you feel it. Even when LT. Elgin is killed, one of the “villains”, there’s a shred of sympathy for him. This helps you become immersed in this lovely, bloody world.
Costner approaches the subject matter, much like his character, in a child-like, gentle manner. Not a detail is missed. It felt genuine, and not at all like it was trying “to have it both ways”.
It worked. It worked so well that nobody was able to emulate that style. They tried. But where every mediocre 90s historical drama failed, only Kevin Costner succeeded.
You know how there were a bunch of mediocre period films from the 80s and 90s?
You know, like Gandhi, Out of Africa, Titanic, Rob Roy, The Ghost and the Darkness, The Man in the Iron Mask, The 13th Warrior, Enemy at the Gates? Etc etc…
Has there ever been a movie that started off vanilla and then did a complete 180?
Like I have an idea of a period piece, during the Napoleonic Wars or Mongol Invasions or some shit, where the typical tropes are established: a virtuous hero, a mustache-twirling villain, a love interest, and a community standing up to the forces of evil, etc. The film will open with some boring quote on the nature of war: “In war, there are no heroes”, or whatever. Even the leading man will be the safest, whitest, most bland actor you can think of…one of the “Chris’s” probably (Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, Chris Pine). The entire first half will be nothing but tropes and cliches…even the cinematography and music are flat and unoriginal, to the point where the audience will stop paying attention…as our hero prepares his community for battle against some dumb villain.
Then the second half opens and all fucking hell breaks loose: the “hero” and his army, as one thing leads to another, just commits straight-up genocide in the most offensive and disgusting way possible. And the worst part: the “hero” doesn’t reflect on his dishonorable victory. To him, it’s all glory. The film is told from his perspective as he slaughters men, women, children, and takes slaves for good measure…all told through the lens of bland 90s filmmaking.
Then the lame quote from the beginning… “In war, there are no heroes” …reappears at the end, just so you can show the audience that you tried to warn them. And that’s the moral of the film: everyone is capable of evil so pay attention, we’re all blinded by ideology, blah blah blah
Is anyone else seeing what I’m seeing here?
Sure there are films that deliberately fuck with the audience, but is there one out there that fucks with the audience based on expectation (like making the audience believe they’re watching standard Hollywood fare, but reveal that they’re actually watching torture porn)?
Evidence for such a decade is the 2000 film 100 Girls. It’s hard to believe they used to make movies like that.
The plot’s pretty simple: some dude in college loses his virginity in an elevator like it’s some big deal. Then he spends the rest of the movie looking for this mystery girl in a dormitory.
His roommate also has a fucked up penis.
If this was a typical boner comedy, it probably would have been standard background noise.
You see, discussions on the differences between men and women used to be “interesting” to people. Not to me though. I thought girls were just boys with vaginas and left it at that. I would know because I’ve definitely seen a vagina. But 20 years ago, people didn’t know that.
So there were things like The Man Show, Kevin Smith films, American Pie, etc. The difference is though, occasionally those things would be funny.
100 Girls attempts to elevate the formula. And the moral of the story is this:
“Girls have boobs. But did you they also have personality? What a revelation!”
*Cue Bowling For Soup.
So be thankful that you live in a time of terrorism, pandemics, catastrophic climate change, massive wealth inequality, and dying democracies.