U-571 (2000) 

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Matthew McConaughey
Harvey Keitel
Jake Weber
Eric Palladino
Matthew Settle
David Keith
Bill Paxton
Jon Bon Jovi
Jake Noseworthy
Will Estes

Jonathan Mostow



Time: 120 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: History/Action/Drama/World War II

Won Academy Award for Best Sound Editing. Nomination for Best Sound.

Despite the stereotype, I, unlike most women, go to the movies, on occassion, to see things get blown up. I'm also equally intrigued by World War II, probably because I didn't live through it, so U-571 seemed to be the perfect movie for me. Lots of explosions, a covert mission to stop pure evil, what could be better? Well, this movie for starters. The plot can be described in a sentence. It runs as deep as a wading pool. The only reason it works at all is because of the idea's inherent danger. US Navy seaman capture a German U-Boat to steal an Enigma machine which will allow the Allies to finally break the German secret code and gain the upper hand in the war on the water. The enigma machine, which looks like a typewriter, is treated like the Holy Grail, and in a way it was, but it still doesn't seem worth all the bloodshed. However, trap your heroes on a rickety submarine in enemy waters and you've got tension. Of course, submarines give most people the creeps, due to the many things that could go wrong and kill you. Especially drowning. Not the best way to go.

That fact keeps you on the edge of your seat. You know they're going to make it – at least some of them – but it doesn't matter. Just the idea of them potentially drowning is enough to keep you praying the ship holds together. You pray for this more for your own peace of mind then out of concern for any of the characters, because they never really make any of them real. They're all so interchangable you don't feel much of anything when they die. Believe me, I cry at commercials and this film didn't even elicite a sniffle out of me. The only people who stand out are McConaughey because he's the star, Keitel because he's old, Carson because he's black and Palladino because he's annoying. Everyone else, just kind of blends together. Not a good thing when we're supposed to care whether they live or die. Paxton and Bon Jovi, two of the name stars in the film, have such tiny parts the only reason they got top billing is because of their agents. Hell, if you blink, you'll miss Bon Jovi, which may be a good thing as far as some people are concerned, but I can't see why he bothered to show up for work. He was supposed to be McConaughey's best buddy, but you'd never know it because you don't learn anything about anybody. They don't even bother to stereotype them, which is usually the bargain basement of character development.

"You're the skipper now. And the skipper always knows what to do whether he does or not."

The main arc of the story deals with McConaughey becoming a true captain, someone who can make hard decisions for the good of the mission. The film opens with him being passed over for his own command because he's not ready to be a leader. He's not a man who can sacrifice his own men to get the job done. The ordeal to capture the Enigma becomes his proving ground. We don't ever find out anything about him accept that his father was a fisherman and he always wanted his own ship. This is supposed to make me care whether he becomes a good captain or not? The only reason I care is because I don't want to see them drown...and because we all want the Nazis to die. Their only real protangonists are the shape/health of the ship, which is barely hanging together, and the German U-Boat captain they drag from the water, who literally throws a wrench into the situation. Not hugely compelling; however, they do squeeze every ounce of drama out of these two "enemies" and it works for the most part. It's also hard to be extremely exciting when two-thirds of your movie takes place in such a cramped and confined space. The fact that they actually keep the pace up and interesting is a minor miracle.

Which is not to say, that the film isn't tense and enjoyable. The sequence where they're being bombed underwater by hundreds of depth charges is completely terrifying. You don't know whether they're going to get blown to bits by a direct hit or whether the ship is going to bust apart just from the close calls. The actors are thrown from one side of the room to the other and it's so loud you'd think you were in the boat with them. It's a nightmare cat and mouse game. I, for one, never want to step foot on a submarine after watching that. There's no real suspense in the film as to whether they're going to succeed in their mission, but you root for them anyway. Mainly because you want to see them blow up this giant Nazi Destroyer. That, however, was a huge disappointment. It was so obviously a model that it was laughable. I haven't seen blue-screening that bad since LAST OF THE MOHICANS. There's not that many special effects in the film so you'd think they'd save some of the cash for the big finale. I guess not. The explosion and sinking of the American sub earlier in the film is done better. How they could keep such a lame effect in is beyond me.

The music score was also way overdone and overly-patriotic. We're Americans, we don't need to be beaten over the head to root for the good guys. That kind of goes without saying. A little subtlety would have gone a long way. A thicker plot and some character development wouldn't have hurt either. Then again, if you're just looking for a good popcorn, action movie you won't be disappointed. It's surprisingly more enjoyable than it should be.

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