The Battle of Stalingrad - the bloody siege of the Soviet city that marked the turning point of World War II - is stunningly recreated in director Fedor Bondarchuk's visually impressive drama. Red Army soldiers led by their steely commander (Pyotr Fyodorov) have to defend a building from the constant onslaught of battle-hardened German troops. Impressive CGI and and battle sequences enriched by unflinching realism make for a compelling glimpse into the depths of man-made hell.
The unimaginably brutal Battle of Stalingrad fought between Soviet and German troops for five months ended in February 1943 with a death toll of more than 1.7m on both sides...and the tide of WWII turning against Hitler.
Previous attempts to capture the drama on film have included the two-part 1949 Soviet movie The Battle of Stalingrad, the 1993 German POV drama Stalingrad and the Franco-British Enemy At The Gates starring Jude Law as a Red Army sniper.
The latest cinematic attempt to do justice to possibly the bloodiest battle in the history of warfare is this hyper-realistic blockbuster, the first Russian film to be made for an IMAX audience and also shot in 3D.
Like Enemy At The Gates, it attempts to humanise the colossal confrontation by watching it unfold through the eyes of individuals, particularly six Soviet reconnaissance troops led by their taciturn captain Captain Gromov (Fyodorov).
They've been instructed to hold a bullet-riddled house in the blasted heart of the city...only to find it's still inhabited by refugees - including 18-year-old survivor Katya (Smolnikova) - and is across the debris-covered square from a Wehrmacht command post.
The twist is that one of the German officers, the aristocratic Hauptmann Kahn (Kretschmann), is sickened by the carnage and has struck up an illicit relationship with civilian surivivor Masha (Studlinina).
The device of the domestic scene played out against the backdrop of the vicious conflict raging all around is intended to take the viewer into the dark heart of the confrontation, requiring an empathetic emotional involvement in the fate of those on the screen.
However, director Fedor Bondarchuk strikes a cloyingly over-sentimental note, painting his band of brothers as tough but tender, happily gutting Boche one moment and the next minute crawling across no man's land to grab a tin bath so Katya can have a decent scrub.
(in one scene we're asked to believe that Gromov's squad dispense with sentry duties and organise a birthday complete with candles and cake while the gimlet-eyed Nazis across the road choose to look the other way).
The most compelling scene comes early on when attacking Soviet grunts are clocked by German sentries but still advance, despite being coated in blazing gasoline ignited by the defenders in a desperate attempt to stop the Russians getting their hands on the fuel.
Visually, the movie impresses with the shattered city bathed in a hellish ash beneath flame-lit clouds. Everybody is coated in grime and seething with lice. Buildings - reduced to stone lace by artillery fire - teeter over mangled cars and trams.
It's just a shame that this gritty attention to detail is compromised by the soapy plotting, an unnecessary detour that distracts rather than enlightens and serves to devalue the true heroism of Stalingrad's defenders.