Hollywood can be awfully patriotic at times. It may not seem that way, with
movies like "Three Kings" and "Platoon" making the US look like a villainous
bully; but Hollywood gets particularly patriotic when making WWII movies
like "Patton" and "Saving Private Ryan". You can now add Jonathan Mostow's
("Breakdown") "U-571" to that list of red blooded, gung-ho, fight till we
die, all American movies. The good guys are pristine and courageous, while
the bad guys are evil, faceless terrors from Germany (where all evil,
faceless terrors come from). "U-571" may be the sort of brainless but
uplifting movie that will never stand the test of time like the far superior
"Das Boot" and "The Hunt for Red October"; however, one can't blame the
movie for being brainless as this film's only purposes are to get your pulse
pounding and your spirit soaring. It succeeds admirably on both counts.
It's the middle of WWII, and the Allied forces are getting pasted in the
Atlantic due to a German code they have been unable to crack. Captain
Dahlgren (Bill Paxton, in what amounts to little more than a cameo) has been
assigned to lead a submarine crew, while posing as a German resupply ship,
to a stranded German sub, and steal their code book. His first officer, Lt.
Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey), has just been turned down for a
promotion because Dahlgren doesn't believe he is ready for the strains of
command. The crew carries out its mission only to have their ship sunk by
the real resupply ship. Lt. Tyler now finds himself in command of the
captured German sub. He has only a handful of raw cadets and one grizzled
old sea dog (Harvey Keitel) to help him get the code book back to Allied
soil before the German fleet discovers what they have stolen.
Like I said, "U-571" is mindless entertainment at its best; as a result, the
dialogue sounds a bit forced at times and the events depicted are more than
a little implausible (and quite historically inaccurate). Those few flaws
aside, this movie is a blast. The set designs for the insides of WWII
submarines are remarkably accurate and are dark and dank like a submarine
interior should be. As in all submarine movies, the ability to properly
convey the feelings of claustrophobia and dread experienced by the submarine
crew is very important. Jonathan Mostow writes these emotions into his
characters perfectly. As for the score by Richad Marvin ("Breakdown"), it is
as rousing and patriotic as the movie itself (I'm surprised they didn't have
American flags hanging from the ceiling in the theater).
Unfortunately, the acting in the movie isn't quite up to par. I'm not sure
if this is a result of the rather cheesy dialogue; but whatever the reason
it does at times hinder the film. Matthew McConaughey ("Cutthroat Island")
gives the movie's worst performance. I think this is because he never quite
finds his footing playing his character. Lt. Tyler switches from being
unsure of himself and his crewmen, to being a great submarine captain in the
blink of an eye and then suddenly back again. Bill Paxton ("Titanic", "A
Simple Plan") is given a bit part, which is somewhat confusing as he is
possibly the most recognized name on the cast list. The remainder of the
supporting cast is adequate at best, with the only exception being Harvey
Keitel ("Reservoir Dogs", "Pulp Fiction"). Keitel is perfect as the veteran
of the submarine crew, getting such wonderful lines as "You're the Captain
now, and that means you have to know everything whether you actually do or
The high point of the story comes shortly after the crew begin making their
escape in the captured submarine and are discovered by a German destroyer.
The two play cat and mouse through the Atlantic, with the sub staying as
deep as possible while the destroyer drops depth charges. These scenes do an
excellent job of displaying the fear felt by the submarine crew as the
explosions come closer and closer and the sub shakes more and more. "U-571"
has only one other flaw, which is that it does take awhile to really get
going. The nice thing is that once it finds its footing it's a heck of a
ride. The movie runs a respectable 118 minutes, though a little trimming at
the film's start wouldn't have hurt. I'd recommend it to fans of WWII
movies, and especially to fans of "Das Boot" and give the film three and a
half out of five stars. Now if you'll excuse me, I feel like singing "The
Star Spangled Banner" or buying a flag or something.
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* * * * * - One of the greatest movies ever made, see it now.
* * * * - Great flick, try and catch this one.
* * * - Okay movie, hits and misses.
* * - Pretty bad, see it only if you have nothing better to do.
* - One of the worst movies ever made. See it only if you enjoy pain.
Copyright © 2000 John Beachem