Director: Jonathan Mostow
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel, Jake Weber
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 74
American submariners try to steal an Enigma coding machine from a stranded German U-Boat.
U-571 is well above average. The brisk pace, solid action scenes, tight plot, and convincing acting drown out the generic nature of much of the action. I greatly enjoyed watching this film. I say this with a caveat, however: If you like your war films historically accurate, or take offense to Hollywood’s decidedly American slant on history, avoid this film.
If you read reviews and comments about U-571, it’s obvious that the movie suffered in the ratings because of its hubristic revision of World War II history. In short, the movie tells the fictional story of some American submariners who try to obtain an Enigma machine from a German U-Boat. In reality, it was first British submariners who acquired an Enigma machine from the German U-Boat U-110. While the movie makes no claims to historical accuracy, many reviewers and viewers felt as if the movie did a great injustice to the British by portraying Americans as the first to acquire an Enigma device.
Historical accuracy aside, however, U-571 manages to get a lot of other things right. This is a fast-paced, action-packed war film. The story entertains well enough, and for the most part stays within its premise. However, there are some moments where the film gives the Americans ample doses of Hollywood heroism and good fortune.
Without a doubt, U-571’s strong point is its excellent action. The frequent combat scenes are tight, well acted, and highly energetic. I was particularly impressed with the assault on the German U-Boat, which was a tense, dramatic, and original fifteen minutes of action. This scene is good enough to qualify as a candidate for Best Action Scene in a movie. There is also good variety to the action for what is essentially a submarine movie. We’ve got shootouts, fistfights, underwater action, and torpedoes. While the explosions and special effects didn’t overly impress me, the film got an Oscar for its excellence in sound, and it’s clear why. Watching this film with a good sound system is a treat.
Although the action drives this quality of this film, U-571 does suffer from one glaring problem in this area: the cliché nature of the action. I used to watch old World War II submarine movies when I was a kid, and invariably you’d have a scene where the sub goes to insane depth to avoid depth charges. There would also be a scene where a sub would blast debris from the torpedo tubes to fool enemy destroyers. And of course there would be a scene where a submarine, with one torpedo left, has to face off against a destroyer. It’s embarrassing to say that all these scenes are in U-571. With the exception of the added complexity of the Enigma coding device, U-571 felt like a film I had seen many times before. Admittedly, U-571 does a great job with the action, but it’s a shame that most of it is a rehash of old content.
While the script is average, the acting is a notch above most action movies. Matthew McConaughey, as Andrew Tyler, the executive officer of the American submarine, does a noteworthy job in his lead role. Harvey Keitel leads the rest of the cast, and on the whole they do a solid job in convincing us of the severity of their plight.
Character-wise, U-571 is hit and miss. Most of the characters are terribly one-dimensional, but to a degree this is more a result of the nature of the film than it represents an inherent drawback. The film also throws an unnecessary, inaccurate, and negative light on German submariners, as it adds an absurd and incongruent scene where the German captain orders the massacre of Allied sailors in a lifeboat. On a more positive note, the film does manage to successfully develop a sub-plot (no pun intended) involving Tyler’s evolution into an officer worthy of commanding a submarine.
As for our Babes and Hunks scores, U-571 is a movie about men doing heroic things. With this in mind, our hunk rating, with Matthew McConaughey leading the way, is decidedly above average. Our Babe rating is another story. With the exception of a couple of insignificant dancing scenes in the first few minutes of the movie, U-571 has no women in it. The Babe rating is the lowest we’ve given to a film to date, and it surpasses the abysmal score of Die Hard.
Overall, however, U-571 is well above average. The brisk pace, solid action scenes, tight plot, and convincing acting drown out the generic nature of much of the action. I greatly enjoyed watching this film. I say this with a caveat, however: If you like your war films historically accurate, or take offense to Hollywood’s decidedly American slant on history, this film will only tick you off. In such a case, you’re better off to avoid it.
The credits at the end of the movie about the truth of the British being the one to take the Enigma were only added to the movie after a public outcry in England.
Consistent Premise: 77
Body Count: Moderate
Time to First Dead Body: Unknown
Special Effects: 72