U-571 (2000)

Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Written by David Ayer, Sam Montgomery & Jonathan Mostow
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Keitel, Bill Paxton, David Keith, Jon Bon Jovi

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

The S-33 is about to put out to sea again, cutting short the time off the crew was enjoying. Lt. Andrew Tyler (McConaughey) has just gotten some bad news about his new assignment, or rather the lack thereof, and it's largely because of his skipper (Paxton). But never mind that now, you know that will be an easy target for soul searching and sub-plots (no pun intended) later in the film. The important thing is that they do what the trailer said they were out to do: steal the German code machine that enables their ubersecret Enigma encryption. But, if you've seen the trailer, you know there's a snag--that the S-33 gets blown to high holy hell, leaving nine crew members to pilot a German U-boat, with the code machine, to safety.

There's some good news to throw around here. First of all, the cast is rock solid, led by McConaughey, who's at his career best as the thwarted-but-got-something-to-prove Tyler. Keitel is also wonderful to see work, making the most of his at-times stilted, ill-advised dialogue. Also, the film gets tension going from the word boo and it's easy to find oneself at the edge of one's seat.

But this is a submarine movie, make no mistake, and its claustrophobia is made painfully obvious by the camera's tendency to get right up in the character's faces. In this instance, that works, since hey--there's not a lot of room down there. Because this is a sub movie, it's kind of hard to screw up the tension level: let's face it, you're in a tin can, you're in deep water, somebody's dropping depth charges on your head--easy money. Where the film stumbles is its predictability: even if you hadn't already guessed the outcome from the trailer, the progression of the plot does little to make you wonder. Don't get me wrong--there's nothing wrong with a film whose ending is obvious, but at least give some curves to the road there. And while we're on that road trip metaphor, somebody take that tape of the musical score out of the deck and toss it out the sun roof, would you? Accenting a scene for emphasis is one thing--bludgeoning it is different kind of flying altogether. That, CGI explosions that seemed to grow less believable with each appearance, and some especially horrendous dialogue at the very climax of the film were enough to dock it some major points.

Sure, it's at times melodramatic and at times obvious, but it's not a bad yarn. If you love war movies or sub movies, I recommend a matinee. Everyone else save a few bucks and see it at home.

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