US Release Date: 04-21-2000
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
- Matthew McConaughey, as
- Lt. Andrew Tyler
- Bill Paxton, as
- Lt. Cmdr. Mike Dahlgren
- Harvey Keitel, as
- CPO Henry Klough
- Jon Bon Jovi, as
- Lt. Pete Emmett
- David Keith, as
- Maj. Matthew Coonan
- Thomas Kretschmann, as
- Capt.-Lt. Gunther Wassner
- Tom Guiry, as
- Seaman Ted Fitzgerald
- Jake Weber, as
- Lt. Hirsch, USNR
- Jack Noseworthy, as
- Seaman Bill Wentz
- Erik Palladino, as
- Seaman Anthony Mazzola
- Dave Power, as
- Seaman Charles Clemens
- Derk Cheetwood, as
- Seaman Herb Griggs
- Matthew Settle, as
- Ens. Keith Larson
- Will Estes, as
- Seaman Ronald Parker
- T.C. Carson as
- Steward Eddie Carson
Matthew McConaughey in U-571
U-571 is a tense World War 2 action flick. Like all submarine films, the tension is constant due to the fact that men are trapped together in a potentialy dangerous situation. At any moment they could be blown away or sunk.
Matthew McConaughey stars as a disgruntled executive officer, Tyler, who has been passed over for promotion because he is indecisive in giving orders. He is more the crews friend than leader. They look to him for answers but they do not see him as someone who really knows what is going on or what to do when the shit hits the fan.
Their submarine heads to sea with a mission to steal an enigma machine from a damaged Nazi sub, U-boat 571, posing as a German repair crew. A boarding party, disguised as German sailors, take the sub over and send the German prisoners over to the American sub with the intention of scuttling U-571. Another Nazi sub shows up and sinks the American submarine, stranding the boarding party on U-571.
What follows is an abosorbing tale of survial where the crew must struggle to manuever a submarine in which everything is written in German. Not only must they battle German ships but every allied one assumes they are Nazis. From a torpedo duel with another submarine, to dealing with a sabotaging prisoner, to being depth charged by a destroyer, U-571 is constantly in danger. The radio man's announcements of "Splashes." Is enough to scare the entire crew and put you on the edge of your seat.
To add to the drama is the fact that not all of the characters live. Do not get attached to all of the characters early on. One death that is not a suprise is that of Bill Paxton's captain. He dies early on and thank goodness too. His melodramatic call to, "Take her down." is so over the top it is nearly laughable. He actually proved he could act in A Simple Plan but here he has a thankless role.
Like many great war movies, U-571 shows that being a leader in war time is about making very hard decisions. The story arc takes Tyler from indecisive officer to baptised in battle leader. He makes decisions that men in real life have had to make and we watch in suspence, grateful that it was not us who had to make them.
A tense moment in U-571.
U-571 is a good old-fashioned war movie that could have been made just about any time since the end of WWII. It is tense and action packed and features your typical group of sailors. The details of the plot aren’t exactly historically accurate. It’s more of an amalgam of historical facts placed together in a concise time period for the sake of telling a rousing story.
For example it is set in the spring of 1942 but in reality American troops didn’t discover any Enigma equipment until 1944. It was actually the Royal Navy that first captured the machine and the British government insisted Universal Pictures add a postscript to the movie stating this fact. The filmmakers did, however, manage to get their hands on an actual Enigma machine on loan from a museum.
As Eric said most of the action takes place aboard submarines and it gets quite nerve-wracking if you are at all invested in these characters (not to mention claustrophobic). The acting and script both add to the old-fashioned feel. John Wayne would not have been out of place in the cast. Clichéd dialogue that would normally sound laughably contrived works given the situation and setting.
For example, when the crew first sets eyes on the sub Bill Paxton reassures them by saying, “Relax gentlemen. She's old... but she'll hold.” After the climax Harvey Keitel proudly tells Matthew McConaughey, in a voice choked with admiration, “Well, Mister Tyler, if you ever need a chief, I'll go to sea with you anytime.”
My one complaint about the action comes near the end. To avoid the depth charges (which seem to go on forever without, somehow, doing any permanent damage) Lt. Tyler orders the U-boat to submerge to the very dangerous level of 200 meters. The sub begins to creak and spring leaks as the crew all get tense looks on their faces. But then they momentarily lose power and the sub continues to sink even deeper. But guess what? It manages to stay together. Whew! What a miracle.
If you can overlook these minor details U-571 is a riveting, edge-of-your-seat war movie. I was definitely rooting for them to succeed with their mission and I got a bit choked up at one of the deaths in particular near the end. For anyone with a patriotic bone in their body this movie will inspire a feeling of pride at being an American.
Mathew McConaughey plays it straight and tough onboard the U-571.
I remember the controversy surrounding the release of this film. The historical inaccuracies generated a few headlines here, but in the UK it was much bigger news with speeches in Parliament calling it an affront to British sailors that the film depicted the first Enigma machine being captured by the US rather than British Royal Navy. Although the producers added a note to the end that partially acknowledges this, they refused to add the one requested by the British government that would state the movie was a work of fiction. Imagine if a British film was made that depicted British Royal Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima and you'll have some idea of the level of outrage in some quarters.
Setting the inaccuracies aside, this is a tense and exciting war movie. It takes a little while to get going, but once the Americans are trapped onboard the German sub the action never really stops. There's something so naturally tense about being on a submarine anyway, with its claustrophobic close quarters, but then when you add the fact that these are US sailors on a damaged German U-boat traveling through hostile waters you have a recipe for some major tension indeed. One of the film's tensest moments comes, not when they're underneath the water, but when they emerge and find a German plane flying overhead and a German destroyer approaching, with the subs engines not working.
The mood is kept very serious and even Mathew McConaughey plays it straight. I wasn't sure how I would take seeing him in a military role when he normally plays such laid back characters in light and bland romantic comedies. It's hard to imagine the guy who once played bongos in the nude and who hangs out with Woody Harrelson playing a disciplined Naval officer, but he does a very nice job, as does the rest of the cast, with the possible exception of Bill Paxton, as you mentioned Eric.
A couple of the deaths did catch me by surprise. One that happens when the US sub is sunk surprised me in particular since the character was played by one of the stars. It's a nice touch because after that you're never sure who will survive and who won't.
I agree Patrick that there's an old fashioned war movie feel to the story. Unlike too many modern war films, it doesn't feel the need to add a 'message' to the story or take an ironic anti-war stance or try to be superior to the material.
Despite the kerfuffle from the British government regarding the accuracy of the film, David Balme, the British Naval officer who led the boarding party that recovered the real Enigma machine, called U-571, "a great film" and said that it would not have been financially viable without being Americanised. On the other side of the Atlantic, David Ayer, who wrote the screenplay of the film, said that afterwards he regretted writing it the way he did, saying "It was a distortion...a mercenary decision...to create this parallel history in order to drive the movie for an American audience. Both my grandparents were officers in World War II, and I would be personally offended if somebody distorted their achievements."
Regardless of the inaccuracies, it is an enjoyable, tense and well filmed war movie.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (2000)