The submarine movie. It seems like everybody thinks they can make a
successful one. In the 90's, 'The Hunt for Red October' and 'Crimson Tide'
were among the most popular. But the grand daddy of all submarine movies is
Wolfgang Petersen's 1982 masterpiece which re-defined the term
white-knuckler when describing motion pictures. Academically efficient and
technically brilliant, director of photography Jost Vacano actually
developed (in an authentic submarine with cramped corners) a method that
allowed the camera to run from one submarine bay to another as smoothly as
if the camera were on a flat conveyor belt. This is a feat that should have
won him an Oscar but instead the award was given to Billy Williams and
Ronnie Taylor for their easy and mostly outdoor filming of 'Gandhi'. 'The
Hunt for Red October' was a sly and extremely well written espionage film
that tied itself up a little too perfectly at the end but kept in the
tradition of Hollywood standards without ticking off the audience. 'Crimson
Tide' had the distinction of being a superbly acted film (it doesn't get
much better than Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington) with great sub woofer
capabilities on the home entertainment system. The new millennium brings in
yet another movie about a war time machine they now name a sandwich and this
one has some pretty bland ingredients and some very large plot holes.
I also got the feeling that while watching this movie that someone behind
the camera actually lost a lot of games of Battleship. You remember that
Hasbro board game where people would exclaim "You sank my battleship!" I
say this because the film is like a game of Battleship that someone wanted
to win very badly and the characters are largely portrayed as parts of a
pinball target, video game target or just about any other target you can
imagine in the name of combat. 'U-571' actually feels at times like
standing next to someone who has only emptied half of his roll of quarters
during the routine of playing a video game and you say, "Come on. Hurry up.
Let's go!"....because you're so bored after a while.
The setting for 'U-571' is World War II. Lt. Andrew Tyler (Matthew
McConaughey) and Lt. Commander Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton) are the lead
officers on a mission for the United States that will allow, in theory, for
a group of navy recruits and their officers to board a Nazi submarine, in
the disguise of fellow Nazis, and steal an encoding device which the Nazis
will protect at all costs. This all goes smoothly for a while until a
clever Nazi crewman with binoculars spots the sabotage and all hell breaks
loose. The Americans have to then fight their way aboard the submarine and
steal the device while fearing an attack from their own allies, managing the
vessel's incurred damage and looking after captured prisoners.
After the initial mayhem, the film becomes bogged down with repetitive
vacuums of action which are handled very well with a booming sound track of
refined detail but it all becomes tiresome before too long. This truly
surprised me because director Jonathan Mostow mad a crackling and totally
authentic Hitchcock style thriller in 1997 entitled 'Breakdown' which showed
the intimacies and nightmares of violent crime and had believable
performances from its cast and filled the bill nicely for two hours.
Producer Dino De Laurentis, aside from standing behind Mostow on 'U-571'
also stood with him as producer of 'Breakdown' and it looks like a
compromise was reached where they agreed that one would have his way on one
picture and the other would have his way on the other because these two
films look completely different although they have the same director and
producer working on them. Even if subject matter is completely different
from one project to the next, a film buff can spot the trademarks of an
established produced and director that makes all of their work seem similar.
The mix of collaborative efforts looks lost on 'U-571' but directors always
have a better eye for films than businessmen do any day of the week. When
you go back to look at the career of De Laurentis, he has been involved with
some pretty dreadful movies including 'Conan the Barbarian', Conan the
Destroyer', 'Dune', 'Silver Bullet', 'Year of the Dragon' and 'Body of
Evidence'. The last two being razzie award nominees for worst picture of
their respective years.
One thing that is mentioned at the end of the film are some of the other
missions that men in real time war have given sacrifice to. This was a
pleasant thing to see. Much in the same way that 'Star Trek IV: The Voyage
Home' paid tribute to the men and women of the Challenger disaster of the
way Oliver Stone paid tribute to the men who fought and died in the Vietnam
war with 'Platoon' and 'The Towering Inferno' dedicated its title to fire
fighters who gave their lives and the opening scene of 'Dirty Harry' shows a
wall of names depicting deceased police officers. 'U-571' would make a great
video game and it wouldn't surprise me in this age of marketing if one
actually comes out.
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith