U-571 (2000) **1/2 movie review by COOP

Posted on May 14th, 2008
Posted on May 14th, 2008

“U-571” is definitely a concept that looks good on paper. You have a great cast, a great WWII submarine story and an exciting trailer that is sure to sell many tickets at the box office. Consequently, all of these promising aspects make it even more disappointing when the effort ultimately fails.

I personally enjoy deep-sea adventures whether they are in the past, present or future. Some are great, many are bombs, but submarine movies are reliable in at least one aspect… Even if it’s not a great film, it will usually be suspenseful and exciting. That’s pretty much all that “U-571” ends up being. The whole film had some very serious problems that makes me feel like they might have rushed through the production without taking the time to iron out most of the kinks. Easier said than done because films involving vast amounts of water are notoriously difficult to shoot.

Here’s the concept… In World War II, the Nazi submarines (U-boats) wreaked havoc on trade shipping lines in the Atlantic and threatened to sink all Allied ships down to Davy Jones’ locker. The U.S. Navy intercepts a transmission from a disabled U-boat, and decides that this is a great opportunity to seize the sub and capture its “Enigma” coding machine. Doing so would turn the tide of the war in the Atlantic. They modify an Allied sub to look like a U-boat and sends its crew on the dangerous capture mission. After successfully capturing the U-boat, another German sub sinks the U.S. sub, leaving only a handful of American seamen, lead by Matthew McConaughey, on the disabled enemy vessel. From that point on, they are hunted relentlessly as they try to keep the damaged sub afloat and make it back to Allied waters.

The cast should have been one of the strong points of the film, but the performances ended up being poor. None of the characters were developed enough for us to care whether they lived or died. McConaughey’s character was set up as a weak Executive Officer who couldn’t get promoted due to the fact that he’s indecisive and spineless. This is a huge screenwriting mistake because in this type of war film you need a strong and likeable lead character that the audience can respect, certainly not a wimp. Bill Paxton, as the U.S. sub’s captain, proves again that he’s a one-note character actor in another role that he can’t bring to life. The rest of the cast including Jon Bon Jovi, Harvey Keitel and David Keith had their talents wasted here.

The bad acting wasn’t entirely the actor’s fault. Much of the blame lies squarely on Writer/Director John Mostow. Mostow doesn’t have the biggest resume’ in Hollywood as a director, but his HBO mini-series “From Earth to the Moon” got high acclaim. Also good was his nerve-wrecking thriller “Breakdown” with Kurt Russell. The ironic thing about “U-571” was that Mostow tackled the difficult parts of shooting around water and in confined spaces very well. It’s baffling how he could have messed up the easier aspects so badly.

Besides the acting and direction, the whole film had script problems, sappy/generic music and a few of the special effects ended up being pretty lousy. The film also suffers from what I call “Saving Private Ryan syndrome”. Despite the success and acclaim of the recent Spielberg film, both it and “U-571” portray all Germans as cartoonishly evil Nazis. Very biased for films that try to be serious and show the “realities” of war. It is inspiring to know that this story was based upon similar events in which code machines were captured from U-boats by Allied subs, but the history books say that the success was due more in part by the British navy. I suppose Hollywood doesn’t always give credit where credit is due, but basically it’s just a good concept done badly.

This would be a passable date movie if you can talk your date into seeing it. It’s not too deep, plus the suspense and loud explosions will keep you clinging to each other. I wouldn’t be opposed to kids seeing it either since there is no sex, minimal bad language and most of the violence consists of exploding ships… but the explosions are very loud and might startle some wee ones. Although, if you really want to see a really good movie, I recommend you look elsewhere.

Scale of 1-5:
2 ½

Most refreshing aspect of the movie:
The suspense and excitement. The threat of being torpedoed or sunk by depth charges can really make a person tense. This is definitely the case here and once it starts, it doesn’t let up. You’ll be cringing and clenching your teeth right up to the very end. The relentless “boom” of depth charges and the claustrophobia of the small ship will make you feel uncomfortable, while charging your adrenaline at the same time.

Biggest gripe:
Lots to list here, but I’ll stick to the ones that bothered me the most… Firstly, that ship should have sunk. German destroyers scored seemingly a dozen direct hits with their depth charges, yet the bulkhead never cracked. It got a little silly repetitious after the 3rd volley of charges. Also, when things got intense, characters talked so fast over the loud noises that it was difficult to make out anything. To add to the confusion, things happened so fast that it became impossible to keep up with what was going on. I realized at the end, I couldn’t account for what happened to a few of the main characters that disappeared halfway through the story. Eventually, after conferring with several other viewers, I finally figured out when and how they died since it wasn’t clearly shown. Very confusing and very sloppy work.

Biggest surprise:
This actually re-kindled my interest in submarine movies. Particularly the superior “Das Boot” (translated: “The Boat”), an amazing German film that was heavily plagiarized by “U-571”. The story depicts a German sub, crewed by non-Nazi Germans, who fight to survive in the deep ocean. Made by “Air Force One” director Wolfgang Petersen, it became the submarine film that all others are compared to. It’s easy to find in rental stores, so I highly recommend you check it out instead of seeing “U-571”.

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