By Fred Harvey
The History Place
This is a fast moving action-packed war drama
that will answer the question, once and for all, what's it really like
to be depth-charged while you're inside a submarine.
U-571, written and directed by Jonathan
Mostow, and produced by the legendary Dino De Laurentiis, provides terrific
entertainment, especially if you see the film in one of the new state-of-the-art
movie theaters with a chest-thumping sound system. There's lots of big
The World War II film centers around U.S. efforts
to capture a top-secret German enciphering machine, known as Enigma. The
complex typewriter-like machines were carried on submarines to encode radio
messages. Without an Enigma machine, the Allies had much difficulty tracking
the Wolf Packs of German U-Boats that decimated Allied shipping lanes in
the North Atlantic from 1940-43. The Allies had to rely instead on long-range
airplane patrols over enormous ocean distances.
The film stars Matthew McConaughey as Lt. Andrew
Tyler, a chronically indecisive young man with ambitions to skipper his
own submarine. After being passed over for promotion, Tyler and the crew
of S-33, a leaky old World War I sub, are assigned to intercept German
sub U-571, which is known to be carrying an Enigma machine.
The story is fictional and does not pretend to
represent an actual historical event. Enigmas were indeed captured but
under different circumstances. Mostow, to his credit, did a lot of personal
research into the topic, brought in World War II veterans, and thus provides
us with an accurate portrayal of combat in a World War II sub.
U-571 differs from classic World War II sub
movies such as Up Periscope and Das Boot in that there is
much less quiet time. Those films have lots of intense quiet moments focusing
on the relationships of men under great emotional (and sea) pressure. U-571
has just enough of the 'men-under-pressure' theme to satisfy fans of the
classics, plus a lot of explosive plot twists that will keep you guessing
and as to what's next. The time flew by while watching this film.
Another strong point is the attention paid to
Lt. Tyler's problem with making combat decisions. The film neatly touches
upon the point that life and death decisions are thrust without warning
upon everyone involved in war. The officer in command decides who will
live and who may die. Men under his command decide whether or not to go
the extra mile and take out the machine gun nest (or turn off the valve
in this case). In that way, the film shows how ordinary people do extraordinary
things in wartime, especially that generation, now passing before our eyes,
that fought in World War II. This is the probably the post-Saving Private
Ryan impact on war films we are witnessing and it's a good thing.
Rated PG-13 for war violence.