on February 27, 2003
In "U-571", an untested USN officer named Tyler (Mcaunaghey) leads the green crew of an obsolete USN submarine on a daring, top-sectret mission of modern piracy against a crippled Nazi U-Boat. It's 1942, dark days for the allies everywhere, and especially in the battle of the north Atlantic. Freighters steal across the Atlantic in convoys, desperate to get their needed cargo to Europe to shore up the western front against Germany. German sailors in U-boats hunt the convoys down in organized wolfpacks. In a desperate battle for both sides, the Germans lost about 30,000 men, but came close to cutting the Atlantic off. In the beginning of the flick, allied intelligence picks up the U-571's distress call, the having barely survived a crushing depth charge attack. Quickly realizing they've got a chance to grab the sub and its sensitive equipment intact, Washington hits upon a plan of modern-day piracy. They commandeer a tired "S-Boat" - an American submarine already obsolete before WWII - to rendezvous with U-571 under the disguise of rescuing German sub. The S-boat's inadequacies are painful, but her small size makes her a convincing stand-in for U-571's sister ship. Washington cares less about U-571 than its "Enigma" - an early generation of calculator used by the Kriegsmarine to decode/encode messages to and from its warships. By capturing an Enigma, the allies hope to break the German codes and learn to navigate its ships around the Nazi subs which, stealth aside, are slow and very vulnerable. Fooling the Germans at first, the initial operation comes off flawlessly - and our boys capture both Nazi-sub and enigma in one of those otherwise bloodless operations we've seen in countless war movies. But that's only a set-up for when the plan goes bad: U-571's actual sister-sub appears, torpedoes and all, and U-571 becomes the kind of movie we haven't seen that much of. With their own sub sent to the bottom, Tyler and the rest of his crew must save U-571, learn the secret of driving the foreign sub and sail her across the Atlantic. Tyler is a whiz at subs, but he's unproven. Instead, he relies on Chief Klough (Harvey Keitel) to explain what "Sub School" could not. After narrowly defeating U-571's sister-sub, Tyler and his crew settle on the slightly less impossible of two plans - sail for England, getting as close as possible without being sighted...by anybody. (Should the Germans learn of U-571's capture, they will certainly modify both Enigmas and their codes, and Tyler's efforts will have been in vain.) Discovery is less likely in an eastward course, even though it means braving waters swimming with U-boats. By the end of the flick, Tyler will have barely survived a game of "cat and mouse" with a German destroyer, and a near Mutiny with his own crew.
This flick took a lot of lumps for realism stretches, though most deserve qualification. The film entirely omits any mention of England's recovery of an Enigma machine in 1941, years before we Yanks. Simply ignoring history is bad, but it doesn't make the story as implausible as "U-571"'s many British critics would insist. Given how tight-lipped the British were on any subject connected to their ability to read German codes, it's entirely possible that too few American planners in '42 would have known enough about England's possession of Enigma to declare Tyler's mission unnecessary (England declined to declassify their work on Enigma after the war's end, keeping the wraps on until the early 1970's). A cursory mention of England's seizure of Enigma does not otherwise correct the historical flaws of the film (the story is still inexplicably bereft of any British characters, and it would have taken little to actually add some to the script). On the flip side, a painfully accurate story obviates a more stinging barb on the Brits - one that both acknowledges that they got Enigma first, but also that they kept their exploits silent even knowing that their allies would risk their own men on near suicidal missions to nab what the British already had. (Can you imagine the howls had "U-571" ended with our heroes turning over their hard-won prize to the RN...only for it to join hordes of similar machines silently amassed by the allies, blind, deaf and dumb to the sacrifices of Tyler's men?) The subject of England's stinginess with anything relating to German cryptography, at the cost of American lives, is discussed overtly in Robert Harris's great novel "Enigma", a novel which Has not been criticized for historical inaccuracy. Further, while critics here think this is another attempt at Hollywood revisionism, it's easy to point out that Hollywood holds no monopoly in that area, as anybody who's ever seen "Breaking the Sound Barrier" can attest - in which we learn that the first man to fly faster than sound was actually a British Pilot flying a DeHavilland fighter. While "Breaking" boldly claimed for England credit for the first manned supersonic flight, 'U-571' at least had the decency to set its story a year after the Brits Enigma recovery.
Taking an unrealistic premise - Tyler and his crew assimilating the incredibly complicated and undeniably foreign ship - "U-571" works in a very realistic way, with the script showing how quick thinking and not a small amount of luck saved the day, and how narrowly Tyler and crew beat the odds. The cinematography goes even further, letting us know that, contrary to what we've seen in "Run Silent, Run Deep" and "Destination Tokyo", Submarines were cramped and dark, leaked water, were very slow, groaned under the pressure of the water above and, when surfaced, dipped and climbed on waves like a tin can. This is probably the only flick since "Das Boot" to convey just how impossible a job it was to fight in subs in WWII. It's no "Das Boot", but "U-571" now makes it impossible to watch any of those quaint and propaganda-laden movies made during the war.
on January 18, 2003
This is a wonderful movie which highlights the leadership growth of a young naval officer suddenly thrust into command under incredibly challenging circumstances. Originally evaluated by his captain as "not ready" for command, Lt. Tyler is faced with a striking array of challenges.
This is a story, primarily, of leadership at sea. We often forget that our fighting men are often asked to do the nearly impossible, as portrayed in this movie. I have seen just about every submarine movie around, and in my opinion this one compares favorably with "The Enemy Below," "Das Boot," "Run Silent Run Deep" and other greats. It is far more watchable than "Das Boot"--U-571 does not have any of the dull, draggy interludes that punctuate "Das Boot" (and most other European movies). The storyline is brisk, the acting is crisp and authentic, and the story grabs you from the very first moments. This is a great movie.
This movie has wonderful sound effects. The visuals are utterly real--the viewer feels transported into an old WW2 vintage submarine, and from this realizes an appreciation for the heroism of the men who fought a war inside these steel tin cans.
Some of our European friends are bitter because this story is about the US Navy mounting a mission to capture a German enigma machine. While it is true that the Brits did more of this than did America (after all, they were in the war longer, and the US Navy had to fight two wars at once) it is also true that the US Navy did capture an enigma machine during the war, through heroism and competence. There is nothing amiss here by virtue of the movie being about Americans.
Put aside your prejudices and enjoy this movie! It is a story of leadership and bravery, not just a "shoot-em-up." Watching Lt. Tyler mature into a superb submarine skipper and gain the respect of his crew is really what this story is about--and a great story it is.
on January 5, 2003
I must be some kind of submarine film addict, because I just can't resist films on this subject. "U-571" is yet another great war film that delivers non-stop suspense and tells a good tale. "U-571" is almost an American version of "Das Boot", with some of the same feel of claustrophobia and intensity that the German U-Boot film created.
The story is based on the capture of the Enigma Coder, a typewriter-like device that, with a key book, was nearly uncrackable. It took a monster computer and master mathematicians to break this code, and the fact this code had been compromised was secret until 1974. (as an aside, today with the computer power available could have broken the Enigma in a matter of seconds.) But the story of "U-571" really is a compilation of several missions to capture the Enigma coder, and the subject is actually what kind of men have the bravery needed to go on such deadly missions, in metal tubes that face death every time they plunge beneath the ocean.
Screenwriter/Director Jonathan Mostow created a film that really focuses on the bravery of ordinary men doing extraordinary deeds. The cast was well-chosen to avoid a mega-star that would overwhelm the tale; Matthew McConaughey as the lead does a terrific job, but he pitches his acting down to a level to let the rest of the cast shine as well.
The special effects are nothing short of spectacular. The set builders created such realism that it was hard to believe that the film was not set in an actual running submarine.
Though the story is not "historically" accurate to the events of the capture of the Engima, the film isn't really about the Enigma mission--it's more about the people who undertook such a heroic and difficult task. This is a very well-written, well-directed film that, if you love suspense or war films, will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
The sound is excellent on this DVD--especially the surround sound which is very rich, providing the environmental envelope of rainfall and depth charge explosions all around. The extras are well worth watching, especially the section on building the sets, which was amazing.
on January 2, 2003
This film is so suspenseful, you could almost throw your nail clippers away and just watch U-571! Granted, our friends in Great Britain are rightly peeved to see what is labeled as based on a true story to have the glaring error that it was the USA rather than Britain who actually performed the capture of the Enigma machine.
However, with that kept in mind, Jonathan Mostow does a great job of creating suspense with screenplay and direction. His last film "Breakdown" was a tight suspense flick with Kurt Russell trying to find his kidnapped wife. I saw this after seeing "K-19: The Widowmaker" and enjoyed this one much more.
Johnny Johnson who did the sound for "A Knight's Tale" has created a great wall of sound effect that has buzzers and blasts going off, creating a great sonic setting that enhances the picture.
Matthew McConaughey as Lt. Andrew Tyler does a good job of showing the somewhat green commander coming into his own and able to make life & death decisions when necessary. Bill Paxton's voice acted as a sedative for me because he was SO calm. Harvey Keitel as Chief Klough does an excellent job. One scene where he counsels Tyler that a captain must show his crew that he ALWAYS knows, even when he doesn't, to ensure confidence and cooperation is particularly effective. Jon Bon Jovi as Lt. Pete Emmett does a good job. I also liked the skitterish Trigger played by Tom Guiry who eventually drowns while trying to repair the torpedo, the crew's only chance of survival. After appearances in Black Hawk Down & Tigerland, he's becoming a war flick fixture.
So while the British are understandably cool to the flick, it does wind the mechanism of suspense to the breaking point. The special effects of explosions are also excellent. This is a great evening's entertainment. Enjoy!
on December 26, 2002
There is, of course, only so much you can do with a submarine movie -- depth charges, leaky pipes, bolts popping, Taking Her Down Deeper Than She Was Ever Meant To Go, etc. But this movie does them all very well. You'll be on the edge of your seat even though you realize that you're being manipulated and that the plot twists are preposterous. Probably the cleverest part of the movie is the plot device of focusing on the genuinely likeable young lieutenant who isn't quite ready to be a captain and is forced by circumstances to show that he has what it takes. And the special effects are outstanding -- the plot itself is more than a little over-the-top, particularly toward the end, but the effects are entirely believable. The acting is likewise uniformly excellent. I still put this a notch or two below Das Boot. Das Boot is a truly great submarine movie (more than that -- a truly great movie, period), while U-571 is a truly excellent "Hollywood" submarine movie (less believable, more bombastic, more attuned to American tastes). Watch them both on the same day and you'll be a nervous wreck.