Film Commentary [5-3-00]
Cliches at sea - - U-571
Genre: Action/drama
Grade = C+


U-571 Poster The story of this film is simple. In 1942, the Allies are losing the Battle of the Atlantic. German U-boats are sinking Allied conveys of desperately needed war materials from North America to Britain. A U-boat has been crippled by depth charges and its only mechanics killed. The U-boat has radioed to Germany for help, who have dispatched another U-boat to rendevous and fix their engines. However, the U.S. Navy has intercepted the message and now wishes to capture the U- boat in order to get their hands on the Nazi code machine called the “Enigma”. It is the most sophisticated encoding device in the world and prevents the Allies from decoding German transmissions. Enigma and its code books would enable the Allies to locate the U-boats and destroy them before they could attack the North Atlantic convoys.

S-33, a inter-war Navy submarine that is so elderly that it literally leaks like a sieve. It is captained by Bill Paxton (Twister, Apollo 13) with second in command Lt. Tyler (Matthew McConaughey). S-33 has undergone external changes to look like a U-Boat. A small team, dressed as German submariners, will fool the crew of U-571, board and take the ship by force. At first, they succeed and capture the ship and the Enigma machine. Suddenly, the other German U-boat shows up and sinks S-33, forcing the Americans to man and fix the U-571 and try to make it back to allied lines.

This is the first World War Two American submarine movie made since the 1960s. Although the cast's performances are decent, and Harvey Keitel manages to look good playing the all-knowing old salt who gives advice to McConaughey, the film itself is totally overloaded with virtually every submarine movie cliche in the books. It has them all: scene after scene of depth charging complete with throwing around the crew, water spewing from pipes and of course showing the awful dread of the crew members as the charges march closer and closer. It has the forcing of the the sub to go far below its rated depth with accompanying water spraying and squealing metal sounds. They even go so far as to use the old trick of firing a dead body out the torpedo tubes to try to fool the enemy that they are dead. Come on! This is one of the oldest and obvious cliches there is. Star Trek even used it in their first season (hunting Romulans). There was also the ridiculous overuse of a torpedo that entirely crushed and instantly set aflame the entire structure of a German destroyer. Dramatic, but quite ludicrous.

This was not a horrifyingly bad a film as the action scenes were at least well done with attention grabbing torpedoes, explosions shown with what may be the first time with some degree of realism due to advances with computer graphics. What this movie lacks, as is the case with most of the crap Hollywood produces, is an intelligent script with innovative storyline, likeable characters with interesting dialog and action scenes that do not come out of a Hollywood scriptbook of done- over cliches. Some of the performances were overboard, but generally McConaughey plays himself as he does in every film-with a central Texas accent, even though he was supposed to be a Texas fisherman. Maybe he ought to take a few acting lessons on how to play a character other than as a southern hick.

My advice - wait until it comes on cable.

Note: Bill Paxton, hailing from Fort Worth, Texas, as a student wrote, directed and produced a short film called “Fish Heads”, which was shown on Saturday Night Live in 1980. Twenty years later, this film remains indelibly etched into my mind as one of the most bizarre cinematic creations of all time. It was a two minute film featuring shots of fish heads with the squeaky singing of a song in the background going:

Fish heads, fish heads
rolly-polly fish heads
fish heads, fish heads
eat them up - yummmmm


Dueling U-boats


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