Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:55 - Released 4/21/00

There have been many great submarine films made in the history of cinema, from Run Silent, Run Deep to Das Boot to The Hunt For Red October to Crimson Tide. Joining the ranks of these is Jonathan Mostow's U-571, a gripping story involving the efforts on the part of the Allies during World War II to capture one of the German "Enigma" coding machines, a complex and ingenious device which allowed messages to be encoded in a different way every time it was used. The capture of such machines, and the subsequent cracking of the codes, was an element that played a major part in the Allied victory; many historians believe there could have been no D-Day without victory in the Atlantic, and that victory was largely thanks to the decoding of Enigma messages. Mostow has taken pains to ensure authenticity in his script (with which he had help from Sam Montgomery and David Ayer) and realism in his direction; he keeps the pressure on during practically all 115 minutes of film.

It is the spring of 1942. U.S. Navy Lieutenant Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) can't understand why he has been passed over for command of his own vessel by his superior officer, Captain Dahlgren (Bill Paxton). But Dahlgren assures him that he'll be ready soon, and their next mission together could be a chance to distinguish himself: it's a special operation to capture an Enigma machine from a German sub. Under top secret orders, they will embark in an American sub disguised as a Nazi vessel, approach the disabled U-571, and storm aboard, taking the entire crew as prisoners. Along with their regular crew, which includes Chief Klough (Harvey Keitel) and Lt. Pete Emmett (singer Jon Bon Jovi), they will be taking along a few Marine officers for the Enigma mission. Lt. Hirsch (Jake Weber), although not an experienced submarine officer, is designated as being "the boss" on this particular mission, and Marine Major Coonan (David Keith) is his superior.

Although Dahlgren, Tyler, and their crew are not used to having Marine officers on board their ship, and their men are not trained for conventional combat, they accept the mission and all goes as planned until the last minute. As they are loading the German prisoners aboard their own vessel, it is torpedoed by another U-boat and they must quickly return to the badly damaged U-571. Now they are in the middle of a war zone in the open sea, in a disabled German vehicle, with a handful of surviving crewmen (most of which do not read German), and Tyler must find a way to safety without being discovered by either side.

This film is comparable to Steven Speilberg's 1998 masterpiece Saving Private Ryan in many ways. Not only is it similar in story (a handful of U.S. servicemen stranded in enemy territory), but it keeps up the tension with comparable aplomb. Every sub movie I've ever seen has brought to life the clammy, claustrophobic atmosphere and the white-knuckled sweatiness of never knowing if the next depth charge is going to be the one that implodes your ship (after all, there would be no point in making a movie about a submarine mission that has no life-threatening situations), but this film has the effects and the performances to keep the thrill ride going non-stop, practically until the end credits roll. Yet at a running time of 1:55, it is sufficiently tight as not to be considered too much of a good thing. McConaughey, Paxton, Keitel, and the supporting cast fill their roles well, and inspire the audience to an adequate state of sympathetic sweating. ****½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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