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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: U-571

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: April 2000
Genres: Action, War

*Also starring: David Keith, Jake Weber, Thomas Kretschmann, Jack Noseworthy, T.C. Carson, Jon Bon Jovi, Bill Paxton

Review by Walter Frith
2 stars out of 4

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

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