Friday, October 19, 2012

U Have Seen This Before: "U-571" (2000)

"U-571" has an incredible budget, bankable stars, but a few scenes that I remember from other WWII sub films.

Matthew McConaughey is the second in command of an American submarine under the captain, Bill Paxton. Paxton passes on Matt getting his own boat, and the sub crew finds themselves under a secret mission. They are to disguise themselves as Nazi sailors, board a disabled u-boat, and take the Enigma machine, a coding instrument that could change the tide (get it?) of the naval war. The operation is going smoothly until the American sub gets torpedoed and a skeleton crew jumps on the captured u-boat of the title. They are tracked by a German destroyer, and inside the u-boat's captain tries to sabotage their every move. The bulk of the film is a long set piece where the u-boat must attack the destroyer with an impossible plan and just one torpedo.

Matthew McConaughey is very good as the officer who finds himself in command of his own ship in a most roundabout way. He is cautioned that he is too nice to the crew, and this fault plays an important role in his decision making. Harvey Keitel also plays an understated role as the chief NCO on the boat who often must put Matt in his place, whether by good advice or common sense lecturing. He has a really great role and does it well. Much of the name cast disappears early, but Bill Paxton and Jon Bon Jovi are standouts. Bon Jovi is unrecognizable in a uniform, and he does his underwritten part well. Paxton is getting more mature roles now, no sign of that goofy grin of his, and I would have liked to see more of his character.

Mostow cowrote and directed, and some of his camera shots are amazing. Watch for an over head shot as the u-boat freefalls deeper into the ocean. The other effects are incredible, I did not think for one second I was watching some miniature sub models in a Hollywood swimming pool. The suspense is also timed out well, with the problems coming along believably and never overwhelming the plot.

I did find a couple of things that I would like to have seen Mostow think his way around on, instead of going into sub film cliche. At one point, in order to fool the enemy, the sub launches garbage and a body out of the torpedo hole in order to look like they have sunk. I am not saying this maneuver did not work in the real war, but has there ever been a WWII naval film that did not deploy this trick? Also, the American cast is amazed at how deep the u-boat can go, the almost exact scene was played to equal affect in "Das Boot." These minor quibbles glared when offered, and kept this from being a perfect action film.

Although the efforts of the British navy in capturing the code machines were slighted until a closing credits crawl, "U-571" succeeds in what it was meant to do- entertain us. After "Das Boot," it can at least be called the second best WWII German submarine movie of all time. (* * * *) out of five stars.