U-571 Movie Review

It's finally time to reassess the submarine movie to see if it's outlived its useful life. I was skeptical enough when Crimson Tide came out in 1995, feeling like a knockoff of The Hunt for Red October, itself an homage to Das Boot, it something of an homage to Run Silent, Run Deep. They even made Down Periscope, which four years of therapy have not helped me to forget.

U-571 takes the Das Boot path, starring a dozen of the sweatiest men in Hollywood (the makeup department working overtime on this one), all led by everyone's favorite naked bongo player, Matthew McConaughey. Loosely based on real events, U-571 involves a WWII mission to capture a German Enigma encryption device from a sinking German submarine adrift in the middle of the Atlantic. Skipper Bill Paxton and his 2nd in charge McConaughey hop to the task, dressing up their wreck of a sub to look just like a German U-boat. One guy on the crew speaks German, so there shouldn't be a problem in posing as a rescue ship, right?

The recovery goes as planned but, uh-oh, the Germans catch them in the act and sink the American sub. McConaughey, with his commander dead, decides to lead the surviving skeleton crew to take over the badly damaged U-boat and try to escape the big bad Nazis on their tail.

Just describing the plot gets me juiced about the action in U-571. There are plenty of real thrills and enough Navy jargon to make any war-happy moviegoer perk up in his seat. Truly, U-571 is a fun movie, much like Crimson Tide. But... there is a catch.

The problem is that U-571 is so overwhelmingly contrived that suspension of disbelief is nearly impossible. It's bad enough when we see the Nazis shoot up a rowboat full of survivors because of "orders from Der Fuhrer," just so we know it's okay to kill the Germans later in the film. But what of the later hushed conversation, when a grim-faced officer proclaims that there must be no survivors if a dangerous plan goes awry, because the Germans will torture them all without mercy? Anything to get the audience on your side, huh?

There's the usual "take the boat below the most remotely imaginable depth" scene. There's a prisoner to contend with. There's all that "down bubble" talk. There are implorations to be silent. The usual sub clichés are all here, except they never "bottom 'er out on the ocean floor."

But the icing on the cake is when McConaughey and his crew are on the run from the enormous destroyer, dropping dozens of depth charges, shooting torpedoes, firing cannons... and nothing seems to hurt this ship! U-571 is apparently some kind of German superboat! It's amazing it was damaged in the first place! Pretty soon, you'll probably grow tired of watching explosion after explosion do absolutely nothing to the sub, and then the thrills of U-571 will quickly fade.

Sorry Hollywood, it's time to put the sub movie in dry dock. At least until the next World War.

Dive dive dive!

Comments

U-571 Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, 2000

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