out of 4
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Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4
Das Boot without the subtitles? All of the usual clichés
of the wartime submarine drama are trotted out one more time in this
big budget World War Two adventure from Jonathan Mostow (whose last
film was the Kurt Russell actioner Breakdown). The surfeit of
clichés however doesn't diminish the excitement nor the
claustrophobic suspense that holds the audience's attention for the
By 1942 Hitler's submarines were winning the war in the
Atlantic, due mainly to their unbreakable Enigma code. The Allies
were desperate to get their hands on the top secret code and thus turn
the tide of war. When a German submarine lies crippled in the
Atlantic, the US Navy seizes its chance. Under the command of Bill
Paxton and a gung-ho marine (David Keith), a hastily assembled mission
is sent to board her, retrieve the German code machine and books, and
scuttle the boat.
When the American's own submarine is destroyed by a German
U-boat, the surviving members of the crew commandeer the crippled
U-boat. They find themselves desperately trying to repair the broken
down U571 and steer her across a hostile ocean to safety in England.
Brash young commander Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) finds himself in
charge, trying to whip his small, inexperienced young crew into shape
under adverse conditions during the heat of battle. Unfortunately,
there are a number of glitches in the film's plotting, but Mostow's
pacy and ruthlessly efficient direction manages to gloss over most of
them until the curtain closes. Many may also object to the excessive
jingoism, in which Mostow suggests that the heroic efforts of American
soldiers and sailors were largely responsible for the capture of vital
German code books.
As with many war movies, the characters here are little more
than ciphers that serve the plot, and the audience finds it hard to
identify with them. Mostow has assembled a strong cast, although many
of the big names are killed off within the first 45 minutes.
Performers of the calibre of McConaughey and Harvey Keitel do what
they can with their essentially one dimensional characters.
However, the film is certainly impressive in its staging of
the underwater battle scenes, and Mostow brings plenty of tension to
the film. U571 deliberately resembles Wolfgang Petersen's classic
tale of war and heroism in both look and feel, although the potent
antiwar message is missing here. Production designer Gotz Weidner
even worked on Das Boot. The special effects and production design
are superb, and enhance the claustrophobic atmosphere.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King
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