Jonathan Mostow's (BREAKDOWN) World War II submarine thriller about a crew of inexperienced American mariners forced to pilot a disabled German U-boat through hostile waters delivers plenty of action while paying homage to such war genre greats as DAS BOOT and DESTINATION TOKYO. Matthew McConaughey (EDTV) leads the rag tag American crew as Lt. Andrew Tyler, a young officer determined to prove himself a capable leader after being denied command of his own ship. His fellow seamen include Jon Bon Jovi (MOONLIGHT AND VALENTINO), Bill Paxton (A SIMPLE PLAN) and a cross-section of American society, featuring a hot-headed Brooklyner, an earnest farm boy, a wise black cook, a pack of fresh-faced young sailors, and Harvey Keitel as a salty old sea dog. Working with a lean plot, Mostow employs Oliver Wood's (FACE/OFF) detailed, claustrophobic cinematography and an exceptional sound design to create a series of engaging and genuinely tense action sequences that take the rickety submarine to crushing depths in order to outrun German attacks. While his attention to hard historical facts may be a bit leaky, Mostow's ability to sustain suspense rewards viewers with a tight genre piece with no shortage of action or good old American patriotism.
Before seeing U-571, be sure to get a good night’s rest and take plenty of vitamins. If not, you might be completely wiped out by the end of this exciting movie. Just as he did in Breakdown (starring Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan), director Jonathan Mostow keeps viewers on the edge of their seats with one frightening incident after another. In addition, superb sound effects, visually thrilling scenes, and stirring background music enhance the entertainment value of Mostow’s second film, a World War II action thriller.
Most of the thrills take place inside a submarine where Lieutenant Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) is forced into command after the death of his captain (Bill Paxton). Mostow writes in the press notes, "Although my primary goal in making U-571 was to recreate the experience of life aboard a WWII submarine during war, I also wanted to show audiences how young men in this environment rose above their fears to accomplish incredible feats of heroism."
The heroism dramatized in U-571 invoves a group of U.S. sailors sent on a daring mission to capture Enigma, a German decoding device. Disguised as Germans, they board an enemy submarine, then become trapped there after their own ship is destroyed. They must use their wits and courage to survive torpedoes, depth charges, and the horrific silence between each explosion. Every crisis inside the sub comes across as incredibly terrifying and realistic. Viewers familiar with Das Boot will recognize the work of Gotz Weidner, who also did production design for that classic German submarine film. Both movies make you feel as if you are experiencing the events while they are happening on screen. It’s almost too scary!
Kudos also to the cast. McConaughey (EdTV), in a welcome change of pace, shows just a hint of his twangy accent that is so annoying at times. Paxton (A Simple Plan), though only in the first part of the movie, is perfect as a captain to emulate. Harvey Keitel (The Piano) does a fine job as an "old salt" who’s been through World War I and knows the ropes. Believe it or not, he actually keeps his clothes on throughout the entire film! Effectively playing other "ordinary men who do extraordinary things in extraordinary times" are Jon Bon Jovi, Jack Noseworhy, David Keith, Jake Weber, Thomas Guiry, T. C. Carson, and Erik Palladino. As a German taken prisoner, Thomas Kretschmann gives a chilling performance. (One criticism of this film is its negative portrayal of all Germans. Still, the setting is World War II, and that’s the way most Americans felt then.)
Is this movie historically accurate? Not really. The British, not the Americans, captured the first Enigma machine. Lt. Commander David Balme, an intrepid British officer, actually led the boarding party onto the real submarine in May of 194l. But even Balme, who visited the set of U-571 and viewed the completed movie calls Mostow’s work of fiction "a magnificent film."