Retro Review: U-571

With classic submarine epics like “Das Boot” and “Hunt for Red October” out there, is there room for another?

U-571” chronicles the escapades of a group of sub-mariners stationed aboard the S-33. Their mission is to steal the infamous Nazi code-machine “the Enigma”. Also apart of that mission is to neutralize the Nazi submarine, U-571 which holds the machine. The mission is a glorious success and just as the celebration commences for a successful mission, the crew witnesses the destruction of S-33. Their captain, the only way home, and their lives flash before their eyes as they are forced to man an enemy sub. Barely understanding the machinery, survival is their mission now. Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel, Bill Paxton, David Keith, Jon Bon Jovi, and ER’s Erik Palladino star in this submarine epic.

The epic scale adventure is alive and well in the heart of this film. “U-571” is one of those World War II movies that should be classified with other great war films set in the same era. These films are “The Guns of Navarone“, “Operation Crossbow” and “The Dirty Dozen“. From beginning to end we feel the scope of the historical grandeur that surround these men and their lives.

McConaughey plays a great central character but he never seems to be able to breathe enough heroic gusto into the role. His portrayal here is the kind of role that so many other A-list actors have perfected. The stoic hero trying to overcome surmountable odds. Harvey Keitel is forgettable and never really given anything to really go with exception to a couple of scenes where he buts heads with McConaughey.

There were of course a couple points that I found a bit confusing. During the whole destruction of S-33, I wondered who died and who was scrambling to get back into the sub. It was too black to see who was who. Also was it really necessary for Bill Paxton to wave at McConaughey to get the submarine under before the next torpedo? This whole situation was weird.

Except for a couple obvious weak character portrayals and some technical questions, “U-571” is a very enjoyable and intense film. The mood, lighting and atmosphere are what made this film a standout to me. The shaking of the cabin, the espionage plot, and the conflicts of the crew were great. In preparations for watching this film, I took in a couple other submarine features which really made me admire and appreciate what it’s like to be a sub-mariner. These films were “Hostile Waters” starring Rutger Hauer and “TNT’s The Hunley” which are both great submarine films. Like “U-571” these two submarine films pay homage to those who gave their lives during these stories. If you haven’t already you should check out these two before or after seeing “U-571”.

4 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

Written: April 23, 2000

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