Screenplay : Jonathan Mostow and Sam Montgomery and David Ayer
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Matthew McConaughey (Lt. Andrew Tyler), Bill Paxton (Lt. Commander Mike Dahlgren), Harvey Keitel (Chief Klough), Jon Bon Jovi (Lt. Pete Emmett), Jake Weber (Lt. Hirsch), David Keith (Marine Maj. Coonan)
In "U-571," Matthew McConaughey plays Lt. Andrew Tyler, a young, determined Naval officer who is upset that he has not been commissioned as a full captain to lead his own submarine. When he confronts Lt. Commander Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton), the commanding officer whose lack of recommendation impeded Tyler's ascension, Dahlgren informs him that he is simply not ready yet. In a later scene, Dahlgren asks Tyler if he is willing to sacrifice every man under his command to achieve a goal, and when Tyler hesitates, Dahlgren uses it as proof that Tyler is not yet ready to make the kind of hard, life-and-death decisions that are required of a captain.
Of course, these scenes are all-too-obvious foreshadowing, thus it is readily apparent that, at some point, Tyler will have to take command and make those kind of hard, life-and-death decisions he was previously thought to be incapable of making. While "U-571" is primarily an adventure story set in the Atlantic Ocean battlefront of World War II, it is also a story that traces Tyler's development in the heat of battle from determined, but hesitant, to a fearless leader.
"U-571" tells the fictionalized story of a mission to steal an Enigma encryption machine from a Nazi U-Boat (this was actually done during the war by the British several times, but not in this particular manner). In the beginning of the film, the Nazi U-Boat is battered by depth charges from a British destroyer, and the U.S. intercepts the submarine's call for help. A small crew led by Dahlgren, Tyler, and Chief Klough (Harvey Keitel) beat the German rescuers to the U-Boat and take command. Unfortunately, their own submarine in blown out of the water, and the men are stranded on the wounded Nazi U-Boat (the controls of which they are unfamiliar with) in enemy waters with no way of radioing for help because the call could be intercepted by Germans.
The first half of the film details the mission to take over the German U-Boat, while the second half of the film is essentially an extensive chase sequence where Tyler's team attempts to escape from a German destroyer and make its way to friendly waters. The Nazi U-Boat is badly damaged and has only one torpedo, thus there are few options available. This, of course, means that Tyler will have to make hard decisions, and it is eventually his quick thinking, strength under fire, and willingness to put himself and his men in danger that eventually saves them (or, at least some of them). In other words, this is a traditional Hollywood war story.
"U-571" was directed and co-written by Jonathan Mostow, who also made the effective thriller "Breakdown" (1997). While his script is not particularly enthralling (some of the dialogue is downright silly and the manner in which Tyler is set up as a character to be tested is utterly transparent), the film is nevertheless engrossing as pure action spectacle.
Mostow's abilities as a director have improved since "Breakdown," and he creates real tension and claustrophobia in the scenes that take place on the Nazi U-Boat, especially the heart-pounding sequences in which Tyler and his crew are forced to sit quietly and listen while the Nazi destroyer above them dumps dozens of depth charges into the water. These scenes are nail-biters because there is literally nothing to be done but wait and hope that the depth charges don't explode too close to the sub. The only avenue of escape is to continually dive deeper, which is calculated risk considering that the U-Boat is damaged and can only take so much pressure.
In many ways, "U-571" is really a throwback to the rah-rah war films of 60 years ago minus the overt racism. The late 1980s saw an onslaught of morally clouded films about Vietnam ("Platoon," "Full Metal Jacket," "Born on the Fourth of July") while the 1990s have been dominated by Steven Spielberg's two World War II epics ("Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan") that valued the necessity of fighting World War II while simultaneously depicting the revolting nature of war itself.
"U-571" fits neither category--there is no moral uncertainty to the mission, and the film is presented as a largely bloodless, PG-13-rated adventure yarn. Yes, characters die, some of whom are young, fresh-faced boys who don't look old enough to drive. However, Mostow frames the film within the well-worn tradition of the mission narrative, where the story is driven by the need to achieve certain goals, upon which Allied success is hinged. In "U-571," the capture of the Nazi Enigma encryption machine will mean the difference between victory and defeat, thus any casualties incurred on the mission are a necessary and noble sacrifice.
This is not to say that there is anything necessarily wrong with such a set-up. It was the basis of just about every John Wayne World War II flick ever made, and it taps into certain myths about battle and heroism that are ancient. On its own terms, "U-571" is an engaging action story with characters who are interesting enough to maintain interest throughout the film. Just don't mistake it for a serious exploration of the nature of war.
|U-571: Collector's Edition DVD|
|Audio||Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
DTS 5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Languages||English (5.1, DTS), French (2.0)|
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by director Jonathan Mostow|
Spotlight on Location: The Making of "U-571"
Creating and Constructing U-571
Inside the Enigma
Britain Captures the Enigma
A Submariner's WWII Experience
U.S. Naval Archives: Capturing the U-505
Original theatrical trailer
Cast and crew biographies
|The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer of "U-571" is outstanding. The image is razor sharp with excellent detail, strong color saturation, and solid black levels throughout. The film features a variety of color schemes, from the dank blue-green of the deep ocean to the harsh red glare of the interior of the submarine control room. The transfer perfectly handles all of these colors and lighting schemes without any bleeding or noticeable pixelation. The screen is often filled with great amounts of high-resolution detail, from the complex machinery inside the submarines, to the detailed digital imagery that depicts torpedoes firing underwater, all of which looks first-rate.|
|The soundtrack floored me. The film's sound design is incredibly intricate, and the DVD offers the choice of either a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack or a DTS surround soundtrack, both of which are outstanding--enveloping and impressive without being overly showy. The surround speakers are kept active throughout most of the film. They are in use not only during the explosive action sequences, but also any time the characters are on-board a submarine. There is always the sound of clanking and groaning and machinery working in the background, which really puts you in the middle of the scene. The sound is crisp and clear, with strong highs and solid, thundering bass. The best scenes are the ones in which the crew sits quietly in the sub, listening to distant explosions outside; the soundtrack does a fantastic job of distancing the effects via imaging and the surround channels. If anyone ever doubts the amazing capabilities of a good home theater system with 5.1 surround, this would be an excellent reference disc to set the record straight.|
|As "U-571" has been released under Universal's "Collector's Edition" banner, one would expect a good set of supplements. Luckily, this disc matches its excellent technical qualities with a wide-ranging choice of extras, most of which situate the film in a historical context. |
First up is director Jonathan Mostow's feature-length running audio commentary. Mostow offers interesting insights into the making of the film, as well as historical information. The commentary shows that Mostow did his homework in researching the topic of submarine warfare during World War II.
Mostow appears again in two other supplements: "Britain Captures the U-110," in which he interviews Lt. Commander David Balme, a veteran of the British navy who was involved in one of the missions in which a German Enigma machine was captured, and "A Submariner's WWII Experience," in which he interviews Vice Admiral Patrick Hannifin, a World War II U.S. submarine veteran who also served as the film's technical advisor. Both of the interviews are fascinating, as they allow a peek into the real stories that inspired the film.
Further historical context is given with U.S. Navy archival footage of the capturing of a German U-Boat. The way the footage is edited together and narrated gives the impression that it was originally shown as a newsreel in U.S. movie theaters as a way to bolster support for the war. Also offered is "Inside the Enigma," a seven-minute featurette about the German encryption device that features an interview with David Kahn, a cryptologist, who explains how the Enigma machine works and why it was different from earlier forms of code.
The 13-minute "Spotlight on Location" featurette is pretty lightweight, offering a few interviews with Mostow and many of the cast members intercut with a lot of scenes from the movie (there is also an advertisement for the Navy tacked onto the end). The six-minute "Creating and Constructing U-571" featurette focuses on the technical nature of the film, offering behind-the-scenes footage detailing how the production team built a full-scale, 600-ton, seaworthy submarine for the movie, as well as the interior set, which was built on the largest soundstage in Europe.
The disc also includes standards features like the original theatrical trailer, production notes, cast and crew biographies, as well as addition DVD-ROM content like sound clips and behind-the-scenes interviews.