U-571 Jonathan Mostow
Published Apr 01, 2000There have been a couple of excellent submarine/war movies made over the years (Das Boot and Run Silent, Run Deep spring to mind), a couple of bad ones (notably Crimson Tide) and, depending on where your Tom Clancy allegiances lie, some mediocre ones (The Hunt For Red October). Still, the ones set against the backdrop of the Second World War seem to be the most compelling possibly because submarine technology was still in its infancy and was such a potentially suicidal undertaking. Unfortunately, while U-571 does fall into the same relative time period as Das Boot, it's neither as intriguing a tale, nor as effective in relating the experience of being in a wartime submarine. U-571 is set in 1942, at the height of German submarine dominance over Allied shipping lines. Due to the German's Enigma encryption machine, the Allies cannot break the codes used to direct the German submarines against them and thus are practically at their mercy. The opportunity to capture such a machine presents itself when U-571 is depth charged and disabled. An American submarine (captained by a rather aged and morose-looking Bill Paxton) is quickly dispatched on a top-secret mission to rendezvous with U-571 (with the American sub posing as a German supply sub), capture the Enigma machine and sink her, lest the Germans find out their Enigma machine has been compromised. Everything goes more or less according to plan (despite the fact that the venerable American sub leaks like sieve). U-571, the Enigma machine and the German crew are all captured. However, everything goes to hell when the real German supply sub shows up and sinks the American doppelganger, killing everyone save the Americans (which include Harvey Kietel and Matthew McConaughey) who were still aboard U-571 (with the Enigma). The rest of the movie features the surviving Americans trying to complete their mission with only the damaged U-571 as a resource. Where U-571 succeeds is in its effects, the underwater sub scenes are both clear and realistic, unlike other sub movies where the battles appear to shot in a murky wading pool. The sound effects are also excellent; the sounds of the depth charges are bludgeoning and the tension created by the creaks and groans of the subs are ominous and terrifying. Where U-571 fails is in not going far enough with the story and settling for a rather Hollywood, "everything will work out" ending. While there will probably never be another Das Boot, U-571 had the potential to be something more than just another sub movie; sadly, even the excellent effects and intriguing concept cannot save U-571 from being exactly that just another sub (par) movie.