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U-571 Good thing
wood floats
'cause that's what keeps McConaughey afloat
in this pretty good submarine thriller


Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

After the success of "Saving Private Ryan," movies about the Second World War have begun to creep onto the release schedules of major studios, with this one and the upcoming big-budget "Pearl Harbor" both looking to recapture the magic of Spielberg's epic.

Click on usThis time, the focus is on the submarine service of the U.S. Navy. Matthew McConaughey is Lt. Tyler, exec of the S-33, one of the Navy's older rustbuckets. He is chafing for his own command, but hasn't been able to get the recommendation of his commanding officer (Bill Paxton), so he continues to be second in command as the battle in the Atlantic shipping lanes continues to go badly for the Allies.

German U-Boats continue to sink allied ships at a horrendous rate, and the navy is virtually powerless to break their codes.

However, that's about to change. During a conflict, a u-boat is left crippled, while sending a radio signal to Berlin. Allied intelligence manages to figure out what happened (don't ask how, since they supposedly don't know German codes) and have sent a taciturn intelligence officer, Lt. Hirsch (Jake Weber) and a gung-ho Marine (David Keith) to lead a mission to rendezvous with the crippled German sub posing as its supply vessel, and steal the Enigma decoder and codebook.

Click hereAlong with them they bring Tyler, his seadog chief (Harvey Keitel) and a group of seamen to help take over the sub.

After a bloody battle, they manage to secure the German u-boat and get the decoder, when the REAL supply boat arrives and sinks the American submarine. The survivors are left aboard a vessel that's unfamiliar and in which everything is written in a language they can't read. To make matters worse, the u-boat is still crippled (although they manage to make some jury-rigged repairs) and is engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with a German destroyer.

Director Jonathan Mostow manages to capture the claustrophobic feel of submarine service of the time, and the amazing stress that comes with avoiding depth charges, enemy torpedos and the pressure of the deep. The sacrifice and bravery of the men and the coming of age of Tyler are the center of the storyline. Along the way, you get a pretty good idea of what terror a depth-charge barrage can be.

Click hereMcConaughey is a bit wooden for my tastes, but he plays the heroic role with a certain amount of stoicism. Keitel plays the cliche gruff ole seadog pretty well, considering it's not the kind of role he's known for. But then, nobody watches a movie like this for the acting. It's the stomach-knotting tension that makes or breaks "U-571" and there are times when this movie makes you want to leap out of your skin. However, they are unable to maintain the atmosphere consistantly. The reality of submarine service during the war, as nasty as this movie depicts it, was way more intense. If you are looking for a more realistic portrayal, try Wolfgang Petersen's "Das Boot," which is THE best submarine movie ever done. If that doesn't keep you on the edge of your seat, nothing will.

Theater or Video?
Murky, claustrophobic ... now that the big summer movies are beginning to make their ways into the theater, you can wait on the video release for this one.
DVD at
VHS at

See cast, credit and other details about "U-571" at Internet Movie Data Base.