(2000) War Thriller (Universal) Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi, Jake Weber, David Keith, Thomas Kretschmann, Jack Noseworthy, Tom Guiry, Will Estes, Terrence “T.C.” Carson, Erik Palladino, Dave Power, Derk Cheetwood, Matthew Settle, Rebecca Tilney, Burnell Tucker, Robin Askwith, Carsten Voigt. Directed by Jonathan Mostow
After the success of Saving Private Ryan, movies about the Second World War began to creep into the studio release schedules in the first years of the new millennium, with this film and Pearl Harbor (among others) both hoping to recapture the magic of the Steven Spielberg classic.
This time, the focus is on the submarine service of the U.S. Navy. Lt. Tyler (McConaughey) is the very competent exec of the S-33, one of the Navy’s older rustbuckets. He is chafing for his own command, but hasn’t been able to get the recommendation of his commanding officer (Bill Paxton), so he continues to be second in command as the battle in the Atlantic shipping lanes continues to go badly for the Allies. German U-Boats continue to sink allied ships at a terrifying rate and the navy is virtually powerless to break their codes.
However, that’s about to change. During a battle at sea, a U-boat is left crippled and sends a radio signal to Berlin. Allied intelligence manages to figure out what happened (don’t ask how, since they supposedly don’t know German codes) and have sent a taciturn intelligence officer, Lt. Hirsch (Weber) and a gung-ho Marine (Keith) to lead a mission to rendezvous with the crippled German sub posing as its supply vessel and steal the Enigma decoder and codebook. Along with them they bring Tyler, his respected by the men chief (Keitel) and a group of seamen to help take over the sub.
After a bloody battle, they manage to secure the German U-boat and get the decoder, when the REAL supply boat arrives and sinks the American submarine. The survivors are left aboard a vessel that’s unfamiliar and in which everything is written in a language they can’t read. To make matters worse, the U-boat is still crippled (although they manage to make some jury-rigged repairs) and is engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with a German destroyer.
Mostow manages to capture the claustrophobic feel of submarine service of the time, and the amazing stress that comes with avoiding depth charges, enemy torpedoes and the pressure of the deep. The sacrifice and bravery of the men and the coming of age of Tyler are the center of the storyline. Along the way, you get a pretty good idea of what terror a depth-charge barrage can be.
In the early years of his career McConaughey was a bit wooden more often than not but here he plays the heroic role with a certain amount of stoicism. Keitel plays the cliché gruff ole seadog pretty well, considering it’s not the kind of role he’s known for. But then nobody really expects the acting to be this film’s strong point. It’s the stomach-knotting tension that makes or breaks U-571 and there are times when this movie makes you want to leap out of your skin. However, they are unable to maintain the atmosphere consistently.
The reality of submarine service during the war, as nasty as this movie depicts it, was way more intense. If you are looking for a more realistic portrayal, try Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot, which is THE best submarine movie ever done. If that doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat, nothing will.
WHY RENT THIS: Realistic sub battles. A good sense of tension. Keitel makes a terrific seadog.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Inconsistent. McConaughey was a bit too laid back.
FAMILY MATTERS: A pretty goodly amount of violence and some scenes of extreme tension and fear.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Enigma machine depicted here wasn’t a prop; it was an actual Enigma that was loaned to the production by a collector.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There are some newsreel and archived material which are used to explain what inspired the making of the film. The Blu-Ray version makes this available in the U-Control Picture-in-Picture function.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $127.7M on a $62M production budget.
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
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